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Green Data Centers
Midsized to large businesses maintain powerful computers called servers that store data and run software to provide information system services to users on the corporate network and Internet. Large corporations might maintain hundreds or even thousands of servers in large facilities called data centers. For example, Microsoft is building a 400,000 square foot data center in San Antonio at a cost of $550 million. Google is investing $750 million in a data center facility in Goose Creek, South Carolina and $600 million in a facility in Lenoir, North Carolina.
Because businesses rely on information and its management, the demand for powerful data centers is rapidly growing. Unfortunately, data centers require a lot of power to run and to cool. It is estimated that the money required to cool a data center is equal to the cost of the servers themselves. With the increased awareness of global warming and the contributions of coal-burning power plants to this problem, data centers are drawing the attention of environmentalists and others who want to save energy. The electricity required to run data centers worldwide doubled between 2000 and 2005. This trend is expected to continue; one report estimates that by 2010, the world will require at least 10 new 1,000 megawatt power plants to support the increased demands of data centers.
Governments and corporations, wanting to do what they can to minimize the impact of data centers on the environment and gain some good publicity in the process, are taking action. At the end of 2006, President Bush signed a law authorizing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to analyze the effect of data centers on the environment. The U.S. federal government has plans to consolidate its own many data centers into smaller, more efficient facilities. The United Kingdom is evaluating its data centers and moving to greener technologies and techniques to comply with new environmental policies and laws passed in the United Kingdom and the European Union.
he report from the EPA projects that data center power consumption could be cut by as much as 20 percent if data center managers take simple steps such as using power management systems, turning off unused servers, and consolidating resources. Manufacturers are working on new technologies to minimize power consumption in servers. One company is experimenting with building a data center in an abandoned coal mine underground, where cooling requirements will be minimal. It is estimated that the subterranean data center will save $9 million per year.
Clearly the current power requirements of information systems and the concern over global warming are at odds. Technology companies are well aware of these concerns and are directing the power of technology at finding solutions to the problem.
1. In what ways do information systems negatively affect the environment? Are there positive effects as well? If so, what are they?
2. What can be done to minimize the effect of data centers on the environment?
1. Consider our rapidly growing dependence on data centers. What is the risk of this dependence on our society?
2. How might the geography of our planet change if the growth of data centers continues increasing? Will there come a time when the growth levels out?