Monday, September 24, 2012

Internet Energy Use

Servers In Data Centers Use Lots Of Electricity, Produce Heat, Need to Be Cooled

Data Centers Need Redundant Backup Power, Usually Batteries and Diesel Fuel Generators

Data Center
Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid.  Data centers contain hundreds or thousands of servers.  A server is a sort of bulked-up desktop computer, minus a screen and keyboard, that contains chips to process data.

Data storage is measured in bytes. The letter N, for example, takes 1 byte to store. A gigabyte is a billion bytes of information.  Roughly a million gigabytes are processed and stored in a data center during the creation of a single 3-D animated movie.   The New York Stock Exchange produces up to 2,000 gigabytes of data per day that must be stored for years.

To guard against a power failure, they further rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show. In Silicon Valley, many data centers appear on the state government’s Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory, a roster of the area’s top stationary diesel polluters.

Data Center
Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts. Nationwide, data centers used about 76 billion kilowatt-hours in 2010, or roughly 2 percent of all electricity used in the country that year, based on an analysis by Jonathan G. Koomey, a research fellow at Stanford University who has been studying data center energy use for more than a decade. DatacenterDynamics, a London-based firm, derived similar figures.
The inefficient use of power is largely driven by a symbiotic relationship between users who demand an instantaneous response to the click of a mouse and companies that put their business at risk if they fail to meet that expectation. Each year, chips in servers get faster, and storage media get denser and cheaper, but the furious rate of data production goes a notch higher.  With no sense that data is physical or that storing it uses up space and energy, those consumers have developed the habit of sending huge data files back and forth, like videos and mass e-mails with photo attachments.
Even running electricity at full throttle has not been enough to satisfy the industry. In addition to generators, most large data centers contain banks of huge, spinning flywheels or thousands of lead-acid batteries — many of them similar to automobile batteries — to power the computers in case of a grid failure as brief as a few hundredths of a second, an interruption that could crash the servers.
Google’s data centers consume nearly 300 million watts and Facebook’s about 60 million watts.
For security reasons, companies typically do not even reveal the locations of their data centers, which are housed in anonymous buildings and vigilantly protected.
EMC and the International Data Corporation are companies focused on the management and storage of data. They estimate that more than 1.8 trillion gigabytes of digital information were created globally last year.
State environmental agencies have begun to fine companies for installing and repeatedly running diesel generators without obtaining standard required environmental operating permits. Even if there are no blackouts, backup generators still emit exhaust because they must be regularly tested.
Penalties have been as high as $260,000. No national figures on environmental violations by data centers are available, but a check of several environmental districts suggests that the centers are beginning to catch the attention of regulators across the country.  (NYTimes, 9/22/2012)

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