Data Centres Are Wasteful And Require Ridiculous Amounts Of Energy

There is a lot of data out there, and more is being created every day. It takes a lot of resources to make sure that we can access the data we want, when we want, with minimal downtime. Naturally, this takes a lot of energy, but the New York Times looked into exactly how much. It's a ridiculous amount.

From the Times:

Most data centres, 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 centres can waste 90 per cent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found.

Wasting 90 per cent of anything is already incredibly inefficient, but it only gets worse when you consider how much electricity these data centres are actually pulling off the grid. In many cases, it's more than a medium-sized town. That's per data centre, and we have quite a few of those.

There are ways to make it better, but there are also obstacles to implementing them. For one, data centres are notoriously secretive; not only are their locations often secret, but their hardware can be proprietary and hush-hush too. On top of that, when uptime is priority number one, taking risks on anything new is counterintuitive. Sure, maybe this new thing could increase energy efficiency, but it could also break something.

As the world generates more and more data, and that data continues to migrate to the cloud, data centre efficiency is going to become a bigger and bigger issue. You can read more about the harrowing details over at the the New York Times.


Comments

    it's strange to think that in about 30-40 years from now the amount of technology seen in those vast rooms will be in our pocket.

      Yes and it will be connecting to an even more powerful data centre in the "cloud". As long as demand for their services keeps increasing or someone figures out how to store data in DNA they'll still be here for a while yet. Methinks this article was written by someone with the same mentality that their quad-core uber powered smartphone was actually useful for something.

    Also, let's consider that the clients of these data centers have paid massive amounts of money, to have the same level of access to their data, that they would have if they stored it onsite.
    If data centers started spinning down their disks when not in use, this guarantee of service would most likely suffer.

    Yes but what about the flip side of the wasteful old servers chugging away being replace with these cloud services ? YING vs YANG ?

      How do you think these cloud services are provisioned?

    Energy efficiency for data centres is becoming more critical these days. Power prices are rising and demand is rising.

    One area for improvement is cooling. Waste heat from data centres requires large amounts of cooling. Historically this has been through refrigeration-based air conditioning systems. These work well but are quite electricity-intensive per kJ of heat removed. In drier areas moving to cooling-tower based systems (using evaporative cooling) you can save a lot of electricity. I've heard of data centres in the US being co-located with hydro-power schemes, using exhaust water for cooling as well as taking power direct from the plant next door. (outlet water from hydro schemes is usually very cold as it comes from the bottom of the dam).

    As for demand for servers, this is a tricky one as hazzzaa mentioned. Service expectations are very high. Nevertheless with some clever software and management practices I don't doubt that system performance can be throttled in line with demand.

    I know someone who works in one data centre in NSW, in the peak times they can have like $100,000 per min in sales. So uptime is very important.

    Intel is pushing SSDs in data centres, power savings is a bigger issue in some data centres than the speed.

    I wonder what percentage of the power requirements Apple are going to get for their data centre with their big solar array they are building.

      They claim it'll produce a peak of 20MW which is what the DC is going to draw. I still haven't looked for exact details theyre building a second farm of the same size. Some bits say then a total of 40mw, some say 80mw combined with the fuel cells on site. *shrugs*

    Especially considering the amount of junk data that the internet contains...

    Interestingly a lot of people thing data isn't real, all that "ones and zeros" guff, just insubstantial information floating around in the ether, when in reality it's sitting physically on various disks in various data centres around the world and its creation and use costs thousands in electricity and damage to the environment.

    Dont know what data centers the NYTimes got their info from. The clusters that I use shutdown hosts when the resources are not needed. The hosts literally turn off when not in use. We can thank vSphere and Intel.

    It's easy to see what is using the most power with energy monitors such as those at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_energy_monitor or www.reducemypowerbills.com.au that splits out the power being used individually by each circuit. Air-conditioning is usually way overkilled in computer rooms which is a hangover from mainframe days where that cooling was actually required, but some recent experiments have shown this degree of cooling can be unnecessary for PC based server farms.

    Some more forward thinking 'eco friendly' data centres co-locate with companies requiring the generated heat for other purposes creating symbiotic relationships. Many companies could save big by employing these sorts of techniques, but they find it far easier just to increase their cost base!!

    At least with the proliferation of more cloud computing services, data centres should aggregate reducing the number of inefficient mid-tier data centres with smartly managed 'Super Centres'.

    Will we see issues with data storage similar to the flaw that caused the Y2K fears ?

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