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article imageA look at the huge amount of energy consumed by data centers

By Karen Graham     Jan 2, 2020 in Technology
Computer servers, which store website data and share it with other computers and mobile devices, puts the world at our fingertips. However, the gigabytes of data we are using comes at a significant cost to the environment.
Binge-watching television, uploading photos to Instagram or getting new apps for our smartphones, we make use of the technology that is the Internet almost constantly. We have homes full of smart devices - think Internet-connected refrigerators, streaming video, and even electric vehicles.
Those billions of gigabytes of data flow from our devices into the "cloud," but they end up going to "for real" data centers, huge buildings filled with servers. The energy consumed by data centers worldwide has already reached 2.0 percent - however, that percentage is expected to reach 11.0 percent globally by 2030.
We have had a global shift toward cloud-based technology —and the rise of new technologies like 5G networks, robotics, artificial intelligence, and cryptocurrencies—means electricity consumption in data centers will keep surging.
A room full of servers
A room full of servers in 'the cloud'
"We are using an immense amount of energy to drive this data revolution," said Jane Kearns, an environment and technology expert at MaRS Discovery District, an innovation hub in Toronto, reports CBC Canada,
Data's massive carbon footprint
While our individual devices may consume very little energy, it is the servers stuck away in data centers that act as their electronic brains that are the"energy hogs." And data centers are big business all by themselves, with construction alone costing $20 billion a year, worldwide.
Anders Andrae, a researcher at Huawei Technologies Sweden whose estimates are often cited, told CBC News in an email he expects the world's data centers alone will devour up to 651 terawatt-hours of electricity in the next year. That is nearly as much electricity as the entire energy sector in Canada produces.
Wikimedia Foundation Servers
Wikimedia Foundation Servers
Victorgrigas (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The United States is home to three million data centers or roughly one for every 100 Americans. A large number are clustered in Loudoun County in northern Virginia. Amazon, Microsoft, and Google operate data centers there and it is estimated that 70 percent of the world's data flows through these centers.
The differences in carbon emissions between data centers with different energy sources can be dramatic, says Geoff Fox, innovation chief at DigiPlex, which builds and operates centers in Scandinavia.
With all this impressive information - only 12 percent of Amazon's Loudoun County data centers and 4.0 percent of Google's are powered by renewable energy, despite their promise to shift to 100 percent renewable energy, per Fortune.
Netflix added some 6.8 million subscribers over the past quarter as the streaming television leader ...
Netflix added some 6.8 million subscribers over the past quarter as the streaming television leader girded for heightened competition
According to Andrae's calculations, published in the International Journal of Green Technology, cloud-based services will represent a sizeable proportion of the increase in global energy gobbled up by data centers by 2030. "This will become completely unsustainable by 2040," Andrae wrote.
One source of the increase in energy consumption in data centers today is streaming video from sources like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video eating up 60.6 percent of all internet traffic, according to network analytics firm Sandvine, headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario. This number is expected to continue growing.
When you add artificial intelligence, high-speed 5G networks, and autonomous vehicles to the mix, it will send energy consumption through the roof. Needless to say, there is a lot of work to be done in making data centers "greener."
More about data centers, the cloud, energy usage, Streaming video, Carbon footprint
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