I was aware that data centers around the world were starting to be talked about as an environmental problem, but perhaps the statistic that data centers have the same carbon footprint than the aviation industry (about 2% of the global carbon footprint pie) really put things in perspective for me.
The Open Data Center Alliance “Carbon Footprint Values” document starts its executive summary with:
According to market research and consulting firm Pike Research, data centers around the world consumed 201.8 terawatt hours (TWh)
in 2010 and energy expenditures reached $23.3 billion. That’s enough electricity to power 19 million average U.S. households. The
good news is that, according to Pike Research, the adoption of cloud computing could lead to a 38% reduction in worldwide data center
energy expenditures by 2020.
The prediction that cloud computing will lead to large savings of energy consumption can be justified by economies of scale. Todays’ enterprise data centers average 20-30% computing power utilisation. The same data center serving Infrastructure As A Service (IaaS) is expected to run at 80-90% occupancy. This plus the opportunity for enterprises to transform a fix cost of ownership into a flexible service subscription will lead to consolidation of data centers.
Economies of scale will also allow large scales data center providers to invest in propose build more sustainable and cheaper to run buildings. A good examples of this is the server and data center specifications shared by Facebook via the Open Compute Project, or Google’s water powered and cooled at-Sea data centers.
As discussions of hefty fines for London by the European Union are currently taking place, sustainability is becoming less a matter of corporate responsibility and more of legal compliance.
However, Cloud computing is bringing applications to individuals that were only available to enterprises a few years ago. This will multiply the need for data centers across the globe beyond the current demand. We need to work beyond finding cheaper ways to cool and power servers and start tackling the real problem, servers themselves need to be exponentially more efficient.