Data centers: the most wasteful thing since the Hummer?

If the cloud is the future, the future definitely isn’t clean or efficient. Even though they’re set up to withstand any kind of hiccup the ever-reliable grid can throw at them, the data centers that power it are wasteful, unaccountable behemoths that are going to get worse before they get better.

At least, that’s the impression we’re getting from a new article from the New York Times, the result of an in-depth study they’ve been doing over the last year or so. Cloud data centers rely on what one electrical expert calls ‘too many insurance policies,’ from glorified car batteries to diesel powered generators. Did we mention that these insurance policies (and the rest of the facilities, for that matter) run way more than they actually need to? Yeah, they do.

Take Google’s data centers as an example. They’re using around 300 megawatts a day across their datacenters. That’s more electricity than 3,000 houses use in a year. Facebook is using 60 megawatt. And the US Government doesn’t even know how much energy it’s using. Or maybe they just don’t want you to know.

Now, that’s a lot of electricity, but these places are processing a lot of data, right? Not really. Around 90% of the energy used by data centers is used to keep the servers idling, just in case there’s a sudden surge of usage. They’re mostly just sitting around, and that’s not even counting all the electricity wasted to keep them cool and ready to go if the grid goes down.

And it’s not like no one realizes how wasteful these facilities are. Even executives are willing to own up to it – behind a thick mask of anonymity, at least. “This is an industry dirty secret, and no one wants to be the first to say mea culpa,” one executive told the New York Times. Ouch.

Regardless of how wasteful data centers are, they’re not going away any time soon. Everything from your maps to your video games depend on them, and big businesses are already starting to depend on them. For better or worse, they’re the future, and the best we can hope to do is work on making them more efficient than they are now.

If you’ve got time for a bit of a long read, the New York Times article is probably worth your time. It’s loaded with interesting stats and stories, and really sheds a lot of light on something that doesn’t get much discussion.

Source: The New York Times | Via CNET

Data Center Image by Shutterstock

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You could say the same thing about the sun too, but I don't think it would really matter since it is a nuclear reactor 330,000 times the size of this planet. Inefficiency is not the purpose of this article either. They just want to tell us how bad we are by demanding energy through "unseen" sources. NY Times tends to lean far left for some articles so I am sure politics are involved with it's statement.

Remember, nuclear power is only safe apparently if floating in the ocean above our food or in orbit. The middle of a desert wasteland or away from populated areas is far too dangerous. Oh, I guess that's what happens when bad engineering happens in Eastern Europe. It was the green choice in the end though... super expensive safe power is better than tons of cheap power with some risks.

oh and facebook with 60 Megawatts a year? laughable...

"Facebook is reporting that its datacentres consumed some 532 million kwh of electricity in 2011"

neufuse said,
oh and facebook with 60 Megawatts a year? laughable...

"Facebook is reporting that its datacentres consumed some 532 million kwh of electricity in 2011"


That is 2.53MWatt continuous load @24/7 (60731kWh per day!!!)
(equal to the power consumption of 60000 average american households!!!!!! for facebook!!!)

My guess is the MWatts mentioned in the above article actually is MWh per day.
With 3MWh per day for google datacentres, they use 26280000 kWh per year.
That is 0.125MWatt continuous load @ 24/7 (3000kWh per day)
I don't think the 3000 american households consumption equation works out with the MWatt not being MWh... (in 1998/2000: average was 8900kWh per year)
http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2003/BoiLu.shtml
26280000 kWh / 3000 = 8760kWh

Edited by Tikimotel, Sep 25 2012, 7:49pm :

Ok I just looked up other facts on Google, their data centers use on averge 260 Million watts per DAY! not per year! the key word they use is "continiously draw 260 MWatts daily"

also Google released an estimate that an average search uses 0.3 watt-hours of electricity, how many searches happen per day? the 300 MWatt per year number really makes no sense now right?

To call this wasteful, you would have to not understand the value of these datacenters. It's imperative that the services stay up. With that amount of importance will unavoidably come some amount of inefficiency. But to say it's wasteful undermines the necessity of the datacenters.

reminds me of similar issues such as my Intel Speedstep settings etc
i have tried it out numerous times but it just lags my machine out when its needed
and the same for my Geforce card i have tried many times to use adaptive mode
on it but i run into issues such as a massive problem with Firefox..
With FF and adaptive usage FF will lag out and spike the multiple cores to 100%
When just scrolling a web page (already loaded) not to mention the severe stuttering and flickering to go with that.. makes using that feature in the nvidia driver unfeasible.
Worth noting too i did some google searching when i noticed the problem and i highly doubt most notice or have any clue whats causing it
(default nvidia driver settings = problem)

at least we see signs of people trying to save energy but poorly implemented across the board..
CPU co's need to make their tech work with overclockers and people like Western Digital need to offer more flexibility with their Green drives With my drive,
I took it out of the static bag and loaded a DOS cd with wdidle and killed the green crap.. once again i have to kill power saving garbage so i can have my machine run at stock default speeds.. hooray for smart ideas lets have the head park in my Sata drive every 5 seconds lol

They're using around 300 megawatts a year across their datacenters.

does not compute... do you mean 300 megawatt hours per year? or just say 300 megawatts with no time period.

werdwerdus said,

does not compute... do you mean 300 megawatt hours per year? or just say 300 megawatts with no time period.

yeah our server room at work alone with 17 servers is pulling 44+ Megawatts a year

Perhaps this article would have been a good time to mention how both Google and Facebook are both investing heavily in renewable energy. Microsoft is too, albeit to a lesser extent as far as I know.

What a load of Bunk

Take Google's data centers as an example. They're using around 300 megawatts a year across their datacenters

Google doesn't really release information about their datacenters, most of what we know is unnoficial or guesswork. For example a quick google search reveals that we know that google has at least 12 datacenters (probably more) that means they are using around than 25 Megawatts per datacenter. Thats damn good for a datacenter!
I've been studying datacenter design and I can tell you there are energy efficient zero carbon datacenters out there now and they are improving each year already

A lot of datacenters aren't exactly new and were built to power the older generation of servers that had intense power demands.

Here's what gets on my nerves about articles like this: Enough electricity for 3,000 houses is nothing compared to the amount of service those computers provide for BILLIONS of people. It's a small price to pay. Ecologists need to focus on other forms of energy waste -- like how recycling isn't required for businesses, even though a majority of bottled beverages are purchased and consumed there.

Give each center its own mini Thorium reactor, or stick them in the sea to keep them cool and partially power them with solar.

Shiranui said,
Give each center its own mini Thorium reactor, or stick them in the sea to keep them cool and partially power them with solar.

The thing is that nobody will invest in that, since it is not profitable. While I agree that the idea is great, it is not realistic. Most corporations don't think of the environment that much. They do care, just not much.

Breach said,
Don't see anything wasteful - they have to be kept idle.

Agree - the Author should try turning off his fridge, or his hot water heater, afterall they are consuming electricity all the time just the keep the fridge cool, or the water hot. How many times a day do you need hot water or cold food?

dvb2000 said,

Agree - the Author should try turning off his fridge, or his hot water heater, afterall they are consuming electricity all the time just the keep the fridge cool, or the water hot. How many times a day do you need hot water or cold food?

Yeah. Turn off the fridge and just turn it on right before usage. See how long your food lasts.

That said, the rest of your comment made sense. I agree.

ffMathy said,
Yeah. Turn off the fridge and just turn it on right before usage. See how long your food lasts.

Well actually he is right, just as turning off the fridge will cost on food health / new food, a restart will 'cost time' as well.

ffMathy said,

Yeah. Turn off the fridge and just turn it on right before usage. See how long your food lasts.

That said, the rest of your comment made sense. I agree.


Try shutting down your hardware instead of idling and see how long your business lasts.

ffMathy said,

Yeah. Turn off the fridge and just turn it on right before usage. See how long your food lasts.

I used to know a guy who actually did that.

Could we please get better energy figures? Watts are a unit of power (energy/time) not energy. Power per year would be energy/time/time which is quite meaningless. "They're using around 300 megawatts a year across their datacenters. That's more electricity than 3,000 houses use in a year. Facebook is using 60 megawatts every year." What does this mean? Does it mean they're averaging 300 megawatts, which is about how much the average usage of 3,000 houses is? Why are all the per years thrown in there?

You guys should look at HP's and Intel's joint high performance computing (HPC) systems that they've designed for probably the most efficient data center in existence. It's a special project that the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) contracted the two companies to design and build.

The $10 million dollar data center will be designed to be compact, to reduce the distance electrical and plumbing components must run; it uses a new warm waterin the computing rack technology that efficiently cools the servers, and "waste" heat will be used at the ESIF's office and lab spaces. It's being built at the Energy Systems Integration Facility in Golden, CO.

http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2012/1985.html

Quikboy said,
You guys should look at HP's and Intel's joint high performance computing (HPC) systems that they've designed for probably the most efficient data center in existence. It's a special project that the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) contracted the two companies to design and build.

The $10 million dollar data center will be designed to be compact, to reduce the distance electrical and plumbing components must run; it uses a new warm waterin the computing rack technology that efficiently cools the servers, and "waste" heat will be used at the ESIF's office and lab spaces. It's being built at the Energy Systems Integration Facility in Golden, CO.

http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2012/1985.html

Seems like to me that I've read somewhere where companies like Microsoft and Facebook were already doing some of these things, like the reuse of so called waste heat.

SharpGreen said,
Seems like to me that I've read somewhere where companies like Microsoft and Facebook were already doing some of these things, like the reuse of so called waste heat.

Yes.
Actually a lot of companies working away in this field. There are people building ARM clusters to reduce power consumption on systems that don't need a lot of compute.
Companies are moving toward SSD SAN as well.

There is a whole business around reducing the consumption of the data center.
This is only news to those not in IT.

I suspect or I should say I hope by 2040, the power of todays modern data center will fit in the size of a Mac Mini. When you look at where we are coming from with ENIAC and UNIVAC, computers that at one point could shut down an entire city when they booted but were no more powerful at calculating data than a modern scientific calculator, I know the power efficiency is possible. Looking at what is coming over the next 5 years, Intel's Haswell, ARM PLC entering into Servers, its very an opportunity to improve the greenness of the datacenter.

Mr. Dee said,
I suspect or I should say I hope by 2040, the power of todays modern data center will fit in the size of a Mac Mini. When you look at where we are coming from with ENIAC and UNIVAC, computers that at one point could shut down an entire city when they booted but were no more powerful at calculating data than a modern scientific calculator, I know the power efficiency is possible. Looking at what is coming over the next 5 years, Intel's Haswell, ARM PLC entering into Servers, its very an opportunity to improve the greenness of the datacenter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore's_law

The thing is, scientists are right now reaching what they feel as being a "breakeven" of efficiency. To get to lower nanometer levels now, you must use whole new elements. Silicium can no longer be used if we want to get lower.

ffMathy said,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore's_law

The thing is, scientists are right now reaching what they feel as being a "breakeven" of efficiency. To get to lower nanometer levels now, you must use whole new elements. Silicium can no longer be used if we want to get lower.

yeah especially with cpu speed performance..
i read some pretty insightful stuff about the brick wall coming for pc tech.

Im not sure how much the data center the IT company I work for puts out but in total, we put out about 10 megawatts a day (more than all the homes in the city we're located in). However our buildings are heated and cooled almost 100% geothermally. We have a small solar field over a parking garage and then also the largest solar field in WI providing electricity for us and combined with the wind turbines we're getting up by the end of this year, we'll be off the grid completely for the time being.

spenser.d said,
Im not sure how much the data center the IT company I work for puts out but in total, we put out about 10 megawatts a day (more than all the homes in the city we're located in). However our buildings are heated and cooled almost 100% geothermally. We have a small solar field over a parking garage and then also the largest solar field in WI providing electricity for us and combined with the wind turbines we're getting up by the end of this year, we'll be off the grid completely for the time being.

So the IT company you work for puts out 10 times more per year than Google That`s a hell of a lot of data, nice to see the`re geared towards green sustainable energy in the present and future, hopefully more companies will follow suit

Riggers said,

So the IT company you work for puts out 10 times more per year than Google That`s a hell of a lot of data, nice to see the`re geared towards green sustainable energy in the present and future, hopefully more companies will follow suit


Hahahaha I was gonna mention that as well.

Riggers said,

So the IT company you work for puts out 10 times more per year than Google That`s a hell of a lot of data, nice to see the`re geared towards green sustainable energy in the present and future, hopefully more companies will follow suit

That's total output for our headquarters, not just the data center. We've got 10 office buildings, a large cafeteiria, a very large training center and a 6000 seat auditorium, as well as the data center and 6000 employees with their own computers and a max of two per office (with the goal being each of us getting our own). And we're growing at a really fast pace. It adds up quick I guess, but our CEO is really into green alternatives.

The data center itself is probably a decent fraction of that, being that it's a data center, but the point is, IT companies put out a ridiculous amount of power just by virtue of being IT companies.

spenser.d said,

That's total output for our headquarters, not just the data center. We've got 10 office buildings, a large cafeteiria, a very large training center and a 6000 seat auditorium, as well as the data center and 6000 employees with their own computers and a max of two per office (with the goal being each of us getting our own). And we're growing at a really fast pace. It adds up quick I guess, but our CEO is really into green alternatives.

The data center itself is probably a decent fraction of that, being that it's a data center, but the point is, IT companies put out a ridiculous amount of power just by virtue of being IT companies.

Sorry buddy didn`t mean to sound pedantic, allthough as you say it does throw some perspective on the amount data centres use. The more companies use energy wisely the better, not just for the enviroment but also in the savings cost wise, maybe even feeding some back in