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The New York Times questions the environmental impact of data centers. Also, big data as hiring manager and inside Foursquare's data science.
The NYT investigates data center pollution, Google buys wind power
The New York Times (NYT) has conducted a year-long investigation into data centers and their environmental impact, and the first reports from the investigation were published this week. NYT writer James Glanz reports that the study showed the tens of thousands of data centers required around the world to process the vast amounts of data produced by billions of users each day “is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.” Glanz says that through interviews and research, the NYT found data centers to be wasteful with electricity. Glanz reports:
“Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found. To guard against a power failure, they further rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show. … Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centers in the United States account for one-quarter to one-third of that load, the estimates show.”
Glanz also notes the findings showed that only about 6 to 12% of the electricity data centers are consuming for servers is actually being used to perform computations — the remaining 88+% is being used to maintain idling servers standing at the ready for surges in site activity. You can find Glanz’s full report, along with analysis and industry interviews, here.
Some have criticized the NYT investigation for lumping all data centers together and for relying on old information without looking at the advances taking place in the industry. Those advances were highlighted this week as Google announced it will be powering one of its data centers with wind-generated power. Google’s director of energy and sustainability, Rick Needham, told Robert McMillan at Wired that Google has committed to a 10-year agreement with the Grand River Dam Authority utility company for 48 megawatts of wind power for its data center in Mayes County, Oklahoma. McMillan reports that construction on a 300-megawatt facility to provide the wind energy is underway. The facility is expected to go online later this year.
The need for temperature, wind, and solar analytics will likely increase.
The increase of large-scale infrastructure investments in the alternative energy sector will likely be accompanied by demand for data-driven services that can optimize efficiency of the related operational costs.