The dark side of the internet

Tinniam V Ganesh
26 Sep 2012
00:00

Imagine a life without the internet. You can’t! That’s how inextricably enmeshed the internet is in our lives. Kids learn to play “angry birds” on the PC before they learn to say “duh”, school children hobnob on Facebook and many of us regularly browse, upload photos, watch videos and do a dozen other things on the internet.

The uses of the internet have assumed gigantic proportions. Nowadays we use the internet to search billions of documents, share photographs with our online community, blog and stream video. In this age of exploding data and information overload where split second responses and blazing throughputs are the need of the hour, data centers have stepped up to fill the need.

But there is a dark side to these data centers – the facilities consume a lot of energy and are extremely power hungry besides. Of all utility power supplied to data center only 6%-12% is used for actual computation. The rest of the power is either used for air conditioning or is lost through power distribution.

A recent article “Power, pollution and the Internet” in the New York Times claims that “worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants.” Further the article states that “it is estimated that Google’s data centers consume nearly 300 million watts and Facebook’s about 60 million watts or 60 MW”

It is claimed that Facebook annually draws 509 million kilowatt hours of power for its data centers (see Estimate: Facebook running 180,000 servers). This article further concludes “that the social network is delivering 54.27 megawatts (MW) to servers” or approximately 60 MW to its data center. The other behemoths in this domain including Yahoo, Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple all have equally large or larger data centers consuming similar amounts of energy. Recent guesstimates have placed Google’s server count at more than 1 million and consuming approximately 220 MW. Taking a look at the generation capacities of power plants in India we can see that 60 MW is between to 20%-50% of the capacity of power plants while 220 MW is entire capacity of medium-sized power plants.

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