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Dirty Secrets of Internet Data Centers

Photo: Ethan Pines/The New York Times

Quick: what industry uses 30 billion watts of energy (the equivalent
of the output of about 30 nuclear power plants), wastes 90% of that and
pollutes the environment by belching diesel exhaust, all while cloaked
in near total secrecy?

You’re using it, actually. Behold the data centers that power the

“It’s staggering for most people, even people in the industry,
to understand the numbers, the sheer size of these systems,” said
Peter Gross, who helped design hundreds of data centers. “A single
data center can take more power than a medium-size town.”

Energy efficiency varies widely from company to company. But at the
request of The Times, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company analyzed
energy use by data centers and found that, on average, they were using
only 6 percent to 12 percent of the electricity powering their servers
to perform computations. The rest was essentially used to keep servers
idling and ready in case of a surge in activity that could slow or crash
their operations.

A server is a sort of bulked-up desktop computer, minus a screen and
keyboard, that contains chips to process data. The study sampled about
20,000 servers in about 70 large data centers spanning the commercial
gamut: drug companies, military contractors, banks, media companies
and government agencies.

“This is an industry dirty secret, and no one wants to be the
first to say mea culpa,” said a senior industry executive who
asked not to be identified to protect his company’s reputation.
“If we were a manufacturing industry, we’d be out of business

James Glanz of The New York Times has the story: Link

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September 23rd, 2012

Stranger to the World


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