Is Search Killing the Planet?

Everytime you search on Google, you are adding to the consumption of 1% of the world’s energy

by Idris Mootee

Apple Data CenterHere is a lesser-known fact. Data centers use up tons of energy just for cooling, and in a typical data center only 40-45% of energy use is for the actual computing – the rest is used mostly for cooling down the servers. Data centers’ emissions of carbon dioxide have been running at around one third of those of airlines, but are growing 10% a year and now approach levels of entire countries such as Argentina or the Netherlands.

Apple is building its own server farm. Apple has secured a $300 million tax cut from North Carolina politicians in exchange for investing $1 billion over nine years for a so-called technology “hub.” Wonder why Apple needs such a big server farm? There’s only one reason, Apple is contemplating a large-scale strategic shift to deliver multiple applications as a service on an enhanced Apple device, which I think will be entertainment related.

Back to the energy saving topic, here’s one of the greenest data centers on earth which will be housed in a massive cave beneath an orthodox Christian cathedral in Helsinki. It is a former bomb shelter carved into the rock by the fire brigade in World War Two as a refuge for city officials from Russian air raids. Excess heat from hundreds of computer servers will be captured and fed into the district’s heating network, a system of water-heated pipes used to warm homes in the city. This makes perfect sense and I don’t see why these server farms need to be in California. Should we move all our servers to Scandinavia, Northern Canada and Alaska?

Data centers such as those run by Google already use around 1% of the world’s energy, and their demand for power is rising fast with the trend to outsource computing. Every time you search on Google, you are adding to the consumption of that 1%. Research firm Gartner issued four recommendations for improving energy management for corporations:

  • Raise the temperature at the server inlet point up to 71 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius), but use sensors to monitor potential hotspots.
  • Develop a dashboard of datacenter energy-efficient metrics that provides appropriate data to different levels of IT and financial management.
  • Use the SPECpower benchmark to evaluate the relative energy efficiency of servers.
  • Improve the use of the existing infrastructure through consolidation and virtualization before building out or buying new/additional datacenter floor space.

Some called this the Moore’s Law of data centers, the growth of cooling requirements parallels the growth of computing power, which roughly doubles every 18 months. That has brought the energy challenge of data centers to the top of the list. Have you come across any innovation allows waste heat from servers or data centers to be recycled (or managed) in a non-traditional way that conserves energy? There must be a solution.

Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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