The Bitstream Blog :: Posts

Maia’s Grab Bag

Hello, happy reader…I can say, with some conviction, that it’s good to get away from the ordinary. I’ve been on holiday and, in keeping with the current green–centric furor as well as the rather sudden onset of summer (we have only two seasons here), I’ve been thinking about the environment. So, I’m gonna throw several green IT initiative thingies at the completely recyclable blackboard fer ya and see what sticks…

OK, please move away from the blackboard while I toss out the first statement; Our stinking computers eat up a lot of electrons. Duh. William Tschudi, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory just east of here, found that data centers, which operate 24/7, have among the highest density of energy-consuming equipment of any modern building. “They can use 100 times the electricity of a typical office building on a square foot basis,” says Tschudi, the Berkeley Lab principal investigator for this project. “Energy costs of $1 million per month are not uncommon in large data centers that require megawatts of electricity.” Not good.

Another study by IDC for AMD, “…forecasts that, based on current growth trends, the U.S. share of total world server electricity use from datacenters will likely decline from 40 percent in 2000 to about one-third by 2010, while the Asia/Pacific region (excluding Japan) will increase its share from 10 percent to about 16 percent over that period. The absolute electricity consumption for servers in the Asia/Pacific region under this scenario would more than double from 2005 to 2010, requiring electricity capacity equal to output from two new 1000 MW power plants. For the entire world, server consumption from 2005 to 2010 would require additional capacity equal to more than 10 additional 1000 MW power plants.” Also not good.

A panel at a recent North American Network Operators’ Group meeting on Green DataCenters – Power and Cooling in the Modern World threw out the following stat; “EYP Mission Critical analyzed a series of datacenters (sic) and found that 50% of power usage was consumed by the IT equipment (or the critical load), while the other 50% was used by cooling, electrical system inefficiencies and trivial requirements such as lighting. For example, a small datacenter with a 4MW feed would actually consume 2MW of that power before any IT equipment is accounted for.” What’s a mother to do? The more I dig into this, the more depressing the facts.

There are some hopeful signs. Cheyenne WY is home to what is touted as “the world’s first zero carbon data center.” Wind power offsets the massive energy use, and the low average ambient temperature means less cooling than, say, Phoenix.

According to the Green IT/Broadband and Cyber-Infrastructure blog, one of the best places to build a data center in North America is almost due north of me up in Canada, eh. “Thanks to its seismic stability, cheap and accessible power and a talented workforce, the Okanagan recently has seen a proliferation of data services vendors and has attracted interest from at least one major international corporation to build one of the biggest data centers in the world.” That corporation is Big Blue and their partner RackForce Networks, who built a data center in Kelowna BC, in Canada’s “Silicon Vineyard.” (the PR dude that thought that one up should be severely punished) Lot’s of hydro power, a large, low cost pool of workers, a favorable currency, and all the overcooked burgers you can eat means savings for everyone. In case you’re starved for entertainment, IBM has a little video on their site about the RackFroce GigaCenter.

Other northern locations, such as Nova Scotia, the Dalles in Oregon (Google, 69k square feet) and Quincy Washington (Yahoo, 140k square feet & Microsoft, 500k square feet), are also leveraging their advantageous localized factors to keep the environmental and material costs of new data center operation down.

Our ever increasing use of computers is a problem that’s not going to disappear without a great investment of time and money. For more reading on the subject, see Bill St. Arnaud’s thought provoking rant on ICT and Global Warming.

My travels got me thinking about what sort of world I’ll be leaving to my son and, since air travel eats vast amounts of fossil fuel, I thought I’d take direct responsibility for my holiday trip. I decided to train it rather than fly. The cost was on par with air fare and, I had the time to move at a relative snail’s pace. Well, all I can say is train travel in the US is not for everyone but, I found it really interesting and quit nice, though finding a functional power outlet onboard the vehicle proved to be almost impossible.

Lastly, you may be wondering about this installment’s title. Maia, a Roman earth goddess and Vulcan’s better half, lent us her name for this beautiful month of May. That’s all for now…Take it slow.


One Response to “Maia’s Grab Bag”

  1. Just saw this additional bit of info from the folks at ars technica. John Timmer reports on solar power and green technology in the first of a series of articles on the topic of “Forward-thinking IT”…

    — OMas