The Electrical Dirt on Data Centers [Updated Already!]

by on September 9, 2011

in consumer

Consumer news, Consumer alerts and a Consumer's opinionHave You Ever Pondered How Much Environmental Destruction YouTube Can Do? A simple ponder thought out-loud:

The other day I was thinking about all the energy that Google, YouTube, Facebook and all those server farms use up. We upload a video and don’t think anything of it. We post to Blogger and there it is, for all the world to see. As far as you’re concerned, you’ve done nothing but use the electricity your monitor and PC used, or maybe you don’t think you did because you used your smartphone.

Data centers account for ‘only’ 1.5% of the power consumed by the U.S., which adds up to about $4.5 billion dollar electric bill each year. But they’re getting a bit of grief from Greenpeace because a lot of them are located in states where they use coal and nuclear energy.

But alas, if you’ve ever seen a server farm for Google, (And you probably won’t) you know that there’s an awful lot of power being sucked up by these huge warehouses of computers/servers. They need them because of all the content that is moved and then stored on them.

I say you probably won’t because the companies tend to use obscure, hidden away office building parks or obscure locations to rent or stash their equipment.

But I’ve been lucky enough to be in a Google server farm. It’s a bit creepy. Most server farms or Data Centers house row upon row upon row of computers, all plugged into huge circuits and they blast you with the deafening sound of all those cooling fans at the back of the servers, CPU’s, blades, or what have you.

But Google data centers are freakishly quiet. They leave their servers like some people order their lunch sandwiches, and that’s open faced, with all their cooling fans pulled out.

With the lid off, the systems vent into the air that is already being cooled by the building AC. This makes for a rather eerie experience and efficient use of the warehouse’s cooling equipment rather than having all those extra fans blasting out the accumulated heat from a server. The lower heat also could contribute to better maintainability where heat may not be a factor in the wear and tear of computer components.

And to be honest, it’s a fairly green-like approach to housing servers!

Back to the YouTube question because I’m part of a community that uses movie trailers and such and on the rare occasion, put up my own personally created video.

When I write for my Cinema Static column, sometimes I put up trailers that are hosted by another entity or something I pulled off of the Apple Trailers website. I then convert it and upload to my own branded YouTube channel for my readers.

It’s a personal touch I like adding and it wards off the accusations of the mindless that I’m a YouTube scraping site. (Long & stupid story)

But still, I can’t help but think… if 1,000 people/users snag a movie clip bit and upload it to all their own personal YouTube channels, what a waste! I don’t know this, but only conjecture, but wouldn’t it be neat if 1,000 users uploaded the same video over a period of time, then, as it’s being “uploaded,” it’s detected by YouTube that another identical version is hosted somewhere else? Then, the system cancels the upload but credits the video to your account.

We’ve just saved all the electricity needed to upload and write to storage 1,000 identical items. Do that enough, and that, I bet, would save a chunk!

UPDATE (Same day, several hours later):

When I was scribbling this thought, I didn’t realize that my local newspaper was putting something along the same lines together for an article to print on Friday. Great minds I guess.

In The Daily Post, based in Palo Alto, they put out an article titled “Google’s centers gobble up power” and the by-line reads “Firm requires more than Salt Lake City.” Zoinks!

They go on to note that Google uses 260 million watts of power, or 1/4th that of the output of a nuclear power plant.

It was noted that Google fired back to their source article by stating that their typical user burns around 180-watt hours per month, which is equivalent to a 60-watt light bulb burning for three hours a month. Hmm, that fires off one of my favorite pieces of electrical math:

If the estimated population of the United States, 312 million+ people,left a room and let the light bulb burn for only 5 minutes while no one was in the room, that adds up to 1,560,000,000 minutes of wasted power. That’s 26,000 hours or 1,083,333 days or 3,078 years of an wasted electricity. That’s a lot of years in a simple 5-minute moment. It’s a bit staggering when you do the numbers and why I always badger family and friends to turn the lights off when they leave a room!

In a single year, if you leave a light on for 10 minutes a day unused, that only adds up to roughly 60 hours a year of unused light per year. It’s not so huge a number but, well, you see where I’m going with this, right?

If is right where they say there are 2 billion searches a day on Google, or 300 million people a day using Google, well, that seems to be leading back to my other example of how much electricity is used and if their standard user burns 3 hours a month of lighting, well,that’s what it is.

I’ll let you do all the extra figuring on this one. I thought this was just interesting stats.

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