Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Data Centres Waste Vast Amounts of Energy

It’s hard to fathom just how much energy this page has used to get to you. According to my analytics package, you probably found it through Twitter, which has vast arrays of their own data centres. My web host claims to offset their data centres with wind energy (a little bit of bullshit unto itself), which then went through miles upon miles of fibre and copper to get to your eyeballs. That’s a lot of power.

What’s surprising about this year-long investigation by the New York Times is that many of the servers in the world’s data centres go unused for long periods of time, despite consuming gobs of power. James Glanz writes:

A senior official at the data center already suspected that something was amiss. He had previously conducted his own informal survey, putting red stickers on servers he believed to be “comatose” — the term engineers use for servers that are plugged in and using energy even as their processors are doing little if any computational work.

“At the end of that process, what we found was our data center had a case of the measles,” said the official, Martin Stephens, during a Web seminar with Mr. Rowan. “There were so many red tags out there it was unbelievable.”

The Viridity tests backed up Mr. Stephens’s suspicions: in one sample of 333 servers monitored in 2010, more than half were found to be comatose. All told, nearly three-quarters of the servers in the sample were using less than 10 percent of their computational brainpower, on average, to process data.