Posts Tagged ‘data center energy consumption’

The price of our Google addiction

Head out east from Portland about 80 miles on I-84 along the Columbia River and you’ll come to The Dalles. Otherwise known as the secretive home of two Google computing centers, each the size of a football field. Google is on my mind today because of a feature piece in the local newspaper yesterday on Google’s green energy initiatives. It is said Google is investing tens of millions of dollars to promote renewable energy development and other earth-saving programs. Why is that, the article asks:

Along with being a big investor in energy research, Google is a very big user of energy. Its massive data centers, which in the United States alone stretch from Atlanta to The Dalles in Oregon, suck up enough power each year to keep the lights on in a small country. “It’s in our best interest to find cheap electricity to use,” said Robyn Beavers, Google’s director of green business operations.

And cheaper energy is what’s generally available near the Columbia River, courtesy of its hydroelectric dams. One Google watcher speculates that the firm’s founders are motivated in part by guilt. Whatever works, I guess. Companies like Google need to do all they can to stem the non-renewable energy demands of their data centers. A study released last year said “energy consumed by data center servers and related infrastructure equipment in the United States and worldwide doubled between 2000 and 2005.”

What’s driving this consumption? From users, it’s their hunger for everything Web, from video on demand and music downloads to Internet telephony and more…The spike in power consumption was also caused by a number of other trends, especially the proliferation of “lower-end servers” costing less than $25,000 in the United States and worldwide…A jump in the volume of servers in data centers is accountable for 90% of the growth in power consumption.

According to a new article in Harper’s Magazine, no one outside of Google knows how many servers are housed in The Dalles and fed by cheap hydroelectric power. Worldwide, Google may own as many one million servers. Harper’s says by 2011 The Dalles plant (known in the tech industry as server farms) “can be expected to demand about 103 megawatts of electricity—enough to power 82,000 homes, or a city the size of Tacoma.”

That’s just Google’s server farm in The Dalles. It has at least 25 data centers around the world, according to the New York Times. On top of that you have Microsoft and Yahoo trying to play catch-up to Google with giant data centers of their own, including near The Dalles. And mega-corporations, governments and higher ed the world over with ever-growing data centers that store and process enormous amounts of information. I saw this digital transformation up close and personal in my 20 years in high tech.

The energy source for most computing continues to be fossil fuels; Google’s hydropower in The Dalles is an exception to the rule. Of course, fueling the demand for more computing power and energy consumption are people like me. Here I sit with my laptop connected to the Internet. All my sources for this post courtesy of Google searches. Millions like me everywhere are virtually addicted to the convenience of information at our fingertips. And as I type this sentence, I’m thinking of the price in greenhouse gas emissions this convenience is costing Earth and those who live here. Like Google, we computer users also have an obligation to do our part.