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Data Centers Are Becoming Big Polluters, Study Finds - Bits - Technology - New York Times Blog


Data Centers Are Becoming Big Polluters, Study Finds

By Steve Lohr

The world’s data centers are projected to surpass the airline industry as a greenhouse gas polluter by 2020, according to a new study by McKinsey & Co.

Over that time, the carbon dioxide emissions attributable to the electricity consumed by fast-expanding data centers will rise fourfold, the study estimates. The greenhouse gas impact of data centers is “not yet counted and likely to be very significant,” said William Forrest, the lead McKinsey consultant on the report.

The study, released on Wednesday at the Green Enterprise Computing Symposium in Orlando, Fla., mainly focuses on the cost- and energy-saving opportunities being squandered today in corporate and government data centers.

For example, computer servers are used at only 6 percent of their capacity on average, while data center facilities as a whole are used at 56 percent of peak performance. In other words, if data centers were hotels, they would be bankrupt and shut down instead of growing like kudzu. ...

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Comments (1)

Kevin Skadron on May 4, 2008 9:56 AM:

This Times article is pretty sloppy.

There's no doubt that data center energy consumption is going up as society becomes more data intensive. But the services driving this expansion provide value too.

It's also important to note that whether a data center is used at peak capacity is a poor indicator of whether energy is being wasted. For several years now server systems have offered a variety of low-power states, formalized in a standard called ACPI, and large data center operators such as Google use these aggressively to step down power to the minimum needed to meet demand. This includes putting unneeded machines to sleep. As data centers are upgraded and software for managing data centers matures, these new technologies will become pervasive. As comments on the Times article point out, a lot of the inefficiency now is in the cooling of these data centers. Fortunately, there's innovative work going on to address this in ways that work with existing air cooling systems.

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