For the first time, Google opened the doors to its data centers, sharing pictures and video of these massive operations. Wired’s Steven Levy was among those who got an exclusive first look at one of the data centers (a behemoth of a building in Lenoir, North Carolina), and his resulting story is a great read.
What makes these images so compelling? For the average person, it’s a chance to unravel some of the mystery behind one of the world’s most powerful companies, and a reminder that for all the talk about cloud this and cloud that, the Internet is a real, physical thing. Most IT pros have long internalized that truth, but still relish the chance to gawk at a super-sized version of the technologies they oversee on a daily basis. These are the technologies that run much of our lives, and so we can never have too much exposure to them.
Google’s doing plenty of interesting things in its data centers, from custom-built servers to energy-saving innovations (take that, New York Times). But it’s not the only company with an intriguing server story to tell; in the new book, The Art of the Data Center, Douglas Alger showcases 18 other data centers that demonstrate impressive processing power and creativity, interviewing the people behind these modern landmarks (there are a ton of pictures, too). In looking through the book, I was struck by the range of designs and approaches, which took into account things like geographic location (e.g., ACT’s tornado-resistant building in Iowa City) and history (the Lakeside Technology Center in a former Chicago printing plant).
All the data centers featured are beautiful in their own way, but for sheer uniqueness, I’d have to give the prize to Bahnhof’s 10,000 square-foot space in a former nuclear bunker in Stockholm, Sweden (which includes a 687-gallon saltwater fish tank and two Maybach diesel submarine engines) and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, built into a gorgeous 1920s chapel. Both are powerful reminders of how the world is constantly evolving, using old spaces to meet new demands. As for what the future looks like…that picture is still a little blurry.
Want to see these data centers for yourself? We’re giving away a copy of The Art of the Data Center in our Halloween costume photo contest.]]>
Green technology image via Shutterstock
Data centers are inefficient, unrepentant energy-sappers, and our obsession with cat videos is to blame.
That’s one way to read James Glanz’s recent New York Times article, “Power, Pollution and the Internet,” the first in the paper’s new series, “The Cloud Factories.” The piece, based partly on a year-long McKinsey & Company study on the environmental impact of a “secretive” industry without much regulation, includes plenty of startling statistics (30 billion watts of electricity!) and provocative quotes (“If we were a manufacturing industry, we’d be out of business straightaway,” says one unnamed exec).
According to the article, these offenses to efficiency are mostly driven by fear — fear of downtime, fear of failing to meet user demands, and by extension, fear of job loss. As data processing requirements continue to mount, says the Uptime Insitute’s Bruce Taylor, ”no one, absolutely no one, wants to go in that room and unplug a server.” Of course, it could all be solved by the cloud — maybe.
The story has predictably inspired a flurry of reactions over the past day or so, with some supporting its basic premise, but many faulting it for misleading or incomplete reporting. Here are a few choice quotes:
Forbes contributor Dan Woods thinks that the article simply doesn’t define its scope well enough. There needs to be a distinction made between Internet companies, which have made strides in energy efficiency, and traditional, risk-averse IT departments:
The bottom line is that the Internet companies are dying to save power. Their data centers are in effect the clouds that are referred to as a potential solution. Their data centers will be the first to have new, higher levels of utilization because it makes sense and saves money.
Rich Miller, of Data Center Knowledge, agrees that the article failed to tell the positive side of the data center energy story:
The last five years have seen dramatic changes in the way the largest data centers are designed and operated, as companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft have vastly improved the energy efficiency of their server farms by overhauling their power distribution systems, using fresh air instead of power-hungry chillers (“free cooling”) to cool their servers, and running their facilities at warmer temperatures.
Diego Doval (former CTO of Ning) worries about how the general public will respond (he breaks down all the incorrect assertions in a mammoth 5,000-word post):
There is one thing that the article covers that is absolutely true: data centers consume a hell of a lot of power. Sadly, the rest is a mix of half-guesses, contradictions, and flat-out incorrect information that creates all the wrong impressions, misinforms, and misrepresents the efforts and challenges that the people running these systems face everyday.
On The Verge, Tim Carmody suggests the article doesn’t give enough credit to the genuine importance of the Internet in modern life. Uptime is essential not because users want to watch videos or play fantasy football, but
It’s because that infrastructure powers our businesses, our schools, our police and fire stations, our banks and stock exchanges, and yes, our media. It’s because those zippy data transfers help drive our economy, in the same way that the boom in turnpikes, canals, and railroads did 200 years ago.
On Slate’s future tense blog, Will Oremus acknowledges the criticisms, but praises the piece for drawing attention to an important issue:
“[T]he cloud” is not some magical ether, but rather a network of big, power-hungry, polluting, and often wasteful physical data warehouses that store a lot of stuff we need but also tons of stuff we don’t need. That may be obvious to those in the tech industry, but for much of the general public—a majority of which apparently thinks cloud computing has something to do with the weather—it’s a point worth hammering home.
And then there are the Slashdot commenters.
What did you think of the article? Was it a fair assessment of the data center industry, or a simplistic view on a complex issue? Where do we go from here? Let’s hear your thoughts. (Be sure to check out further thoughts from Taylor and other tech and energy experts in the Times’ opinion section).]]>
Researcher Jonathan Koomey is the man behind the findings and a Stanford University consulting professor in the civil and environmental engineering department. John Markoff of the Times attributes the less-than-projected numbers to a “lowered demand for computing and because of the financial crisis of 2008 and the emergence of technologies like more efficient computer chips and computer server virtualization.” It’s been the talk of the IT blogosphere lately, but I wonder exactly what this means.
Because of the language in the report and the Times article, it seems safe to assume that the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2007 projections might be pretty accurate sans recession. If companies weren’t finding themselves in a cut-or-close predicament, the creative ways to save energy may not be high on the priority list. But there’s another factor that led to Koomer’s findings: Green-ing technologies. Or, rather, energy efficient technologies, a market that finds itself saving bits of energy where it can while data center administrators look for cleaner power solutions. While I’m sure major companies have the environment’s best interest at heart, they’re also reducing serious costs related to the data center by implementing hot and cold aisles, wireless monitoring systems, fuel cells, and other green offerings as outlined by Katie Fehrenbacher at Gigaom.
None of this means we’re in the clear, founder of the Uptime Institute Kenneth Brill warns: “The numbers do make sense. But they shouldn’t be taken as indicating the problem’s over. There is certainly increasing energy consumption and that should be a concern for everyone.” Still, it’s nice to see the strain felt across the board since 2008 has forced some much needed positive change.
What’s your take on Koomer’s findings? Has your company become a little bit greener in an attempt to save some green? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section or via email.
Melanie Yarbrough is the assistant community editor at ITKnowledgeExchange.com. Follow her on Twitter or send her an email at Melanie@ITKnowledgeExchange.com.
The federal Department of Energy cites data centers as three percent of U.S. electricity usage, “amounting to 120 billion kilowatt hours per year, at a cost of $7.4 billion.” As data creation increases year over year and thus increased need for storage space and support, greater efficiency is the best option for IT departments moving forward. From paper usage to data center energy reduction, there’s always a way that IT can lower costs and usage.
One recent green IT project of note is Facebook’s Open Compute Project, where the company revealed the specs and design of its custom-built data center in Prineville, OR. When compared to its leased data center, Facebook’s Prineville facility received an impressive PUE rating: 1.07 PUE versus 1.4 – 1.6 PUE for Prineville and 1.5 PUE for the national average.
For a company capable of building its own data center, the open-sourced project is a gold mine for green initiatives. For companies less capable, there is the hope that vendors will adopt some of the social network’s resource and energy-saving designs.
Other Green Options
Take advantage of technologies such as virtualization to reduce overall data center costs. Power consumption, server and CPU count can be reduced up to 50% in some cases.
Reuse old hardware or wipe it clean and donate to a recycling center to be used for parts or donated to a nonprofit organization. Upgrading to the latest version or overhauling your data center doesn’t mean you have to trash your old one. Research recycling options that can also serve as a tax write-off.
For further information on how to use virtualization to green your IT department, check out this guide from SearchServerVirtualization.
Melanie Yarbrough is the assistant community editor at ITKnowledgeExchange.com. Follow her on Twitter or send her an email at Melanie@ITKnowledgeExchange.com.]]>
With increased and ongoing effort to hone methods for making data centers a greener operation by improving power management, the Energy Star rating creates a more tangible way to measure who’s ahead of the game and who’s falling behind, or whose Power Usage Effectiveness doesn’t fit into the bottom 25 percent. Perhaps it’s a last-ditch effort to counter the exponential growth in data and thus of data centers and energy consumption. From the Energy Star website:
In its 2007 Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency Opportunities [PDF], EPA estimated that the nation’s servers and data centers consumed about 61 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2006 (1.5 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption) for a total electricity cost of about $4.5 billion. As one of the fastest growing sectors, national energy consumption by servers and data centers could nearly double by 2011 to more than 100 billion kWh, representing a $7.4 billion annual electricity cost. However, there is significant potential for energy efficiency improvements in data centers.
The Power Usage Effectiveness metric, developed by The Green Grid, piggybacks on the agency’s already-existing commercial buildings rating. There is also a ratings system in place for hardware such as servers, with a system for rating data center storage equipment in development stages.
Where do you expect your data center to rate on the EPA’s new energy efficiency scale? What have you done or what are you doing to improve?
Melanie Yarbrough is the assistant community editor at ITKnowledgeExchange.com. Follow her on Twitter or send her an email at Melanie@ITKnowledgeExchange.com.]]>
Despite the industry’s attempt to catch up with data storage and cooling, across-the-board efficiency is ranked right up there with the Tooth Fairy. Not gonna happen. Not all solutions are magical thinking, however, as HP’s most recent research has revealed. Can cow manure catapult your data center into a self-sufficient, powered and cooled machine? Looks like it.
As TakePart’s Danny Jensen reports:
The HP research team recently unveiled a paper that explores the sustainability of converting waste from dairy farms and cattle feedlots into electricity to power and cool energy-hungry computer data centers. The massive heat output generated by the data centers is in turn reused to break down the biomass, creating a self-sufficient system.
Sound like a bunch of BS? (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.) HP Lab’s “Design of Farm Waste-Driven Supply Side Infrastructure for Data Centers” [PDF] cites the “design and operation of data center infrastructure [as] one of the primary challenges facing IT organizations and economies alike.” Set aside the benefits for data centers worldwide—it seems to be the perfect symbiotic relationship of solutions. The food industry is always under fire for its wasteful and sometimes questionable practices, with vegetarians citing that “methane is 21 times more damaging than carbon dioxide” as a reason to quit meat. With this new research, IT pros, farmers and meat eaters alike can celebrate this unlikely new partnership.
Don’t put your livestock order in just yet, though. Still in its infant stage, HP Lab’s design isn’t without its glaring flaws, such as its estimation that it would take 10,000 dairy cows to power a 1MW data center. Danny Jensen again:
Any farm on the 10K cow scale would function as a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), and raises a host of ethical and food safety problems.
What are your hopes and criticisms for HP’s research? How are you implementing greener practices into your storage solutions? Let us know in the comments section or shoot me an email; I’d love to hear from you!
The concept of green information technology has been around since 1992; however, like other green products, it has not experienced a tremendous growth rate. Green products in general have not followed a traditional product adoption model.
Stakeholders have now begun to put more pressure on companies to adopt greener technology systems, of which many companies are making the claims they are either in the process or have already done so. However, in my research so far I have not been able to get passed the managers that are making these claims. This makes it difficult to understand the adoption process and the perceptions of personnel.
Although it is of great interested to speak with project managers, directors, CEOs that are mandating Green IT within their companies, it is difficult to base academic research on these claims alone. So far there has been little academic research based on the people, the personnel and management that are working with these newer and greener IT systems.
Are companies really going green or is it something that is just stated to appease stakeholders? Where are the personnel that are adopting these new systems? Are you supposedly using green IT in your work place? Does it make a difference? Does it make your work easier? Was it easy to adapt to? Do you feel there was sufficient resources and education in order to adopt this technology?
This research is attempting to answer these questions; however it has been a challenge finding people that are supposedly using recently adopted Green IT.
Is green IT just a myth? Is it a case of company green washing or are these companies really transferring their technology?
This academic research is dedicated to the advancement of Green IT.
If your company has mandated and adopted Green IT and you are using green computers or other information technology that is more environmentally friendly than its predecessor please take a minute to fill out this survey:
Or if you are working for a company that claims it is adopting Green IT and you are not so sure and have issues with their claims please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
All respondents’ details will be kept confidential.
If you are a manager/CEO and you are truly proud of your Green IT technology transfer and would like to make your company an example for others to follow please contact email@example.com to become part of an exciting case study. This would include telephone interviews of a variety of personal affected by the transfer. This is cutting edge research and would be a great opportunity for companies tell their Green IT story to the world.]]>