Why Future Data Centers Must Be Green

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Facebook Data Center in Sweden, Under Construction

The carbon emissions and overall environmental impact of data centers is becoming a greater concern for technology and IT companies. The growing demand for data centers, thanks to personal cloud computing, virtual businesses, and the overwhelming need of storage for companies like Facebook and Apple, has caused the atmospheric emissions of these centers to skyrocket.

The data center industry now has a greater carbon footprint than the airline industry – and we are only headed towards the beginning of an ever growing need for data storage.

To combat their carbon emissions and lower their overall energy costs, many tech and information companies are turning to green data centers. In fact, the EPA is demanding that all government data centers reduce their carbon emissions by 20 percent by the end of 2011. In 2006, data centers consumed 1.5 percent of the power used in the United States. That was in 2006 – before nearly everyone had a smartphone, tablet, or eReader in their hands, and prior to the cloud becoming every businesses’ favorite way to store information.

In other words, start looking for a green data center to move your information to, because eventually, the government is going for force you to. Larger companies have already jumped on the ball, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t inherent strengths and weaknesses behind data centers going green.

Facebook recently opened a fully-operational data center in Lulea, Northern Sweden. So why did the social networking giant decide to build a data center in frozen Northern Sweden? Because they knew that the naturally cool climate would keep the data center cool without wasting energy to do so. The cooling gear needed for a data center can account for half of a data center’s need, alone. The area was also chosen because it provides hydro power cheaply. Facebook was smart because it factored in available resources and the location itself – saving them costs all around.

However, the transition for some information and IT companies comes a little more slowly as they aren’t finding the construction of their green data centers going so well. Apple is under fire – yet again – for it most recent addition to its data center in North Carolina. The company has received much negative press for the emissions of its data centers in countries such as China, and was trying to revamp its image by using more sustainable sources.

To add on to its iDataCentre in North Carolina, Apple slashed and burned nearly 171 acres of woodlands to clear a way for it’s solar power array. Even worse, the solar power array will only provide a measly 24 Megawatts. This is the company running iTunes and iCloud – they will use much more power than that. So take a hint from Apple; don’t build or choose to use a data center like theirs. The financial benefit won’t be as great, and you won’t be reducing your carbon footprint by much at all.

As more and more green data centers are created, those using every available sustainable resource – such as Facebook’s – will be the ones to offer more cost-effective services to clients. So when looking for a data center, truly remember that it is all about location. A data center located in a hot and humid climate probably won’t be as green, and will often charge more for services since it costs more to maintain. Apple may have made a dumb move by putting their data center in North Carolina – but after the slash and burn tactics, it doesn’t seem like they are really interesting in going green as they are making green.

Aside from cost, the other primary concern for green data centers is power. Will green data centers be as stable as traditional data centers and will they be able to continuous supply as much power? The answer is yes. As long as green data centers have adequate access to sustainable power sources – whether it be wind, solar, or hydro – they will be able to support themselves. This along with a bevy of new community-based eco-friendly measures, such as the progressive recycling in San Diego and other rapidly growing metropolitans, is crucial to energy reform.

Considering the massive emissions caused by the tech industry, it would be in our best interest to keep ourselves focused on green technologies. While small advances are being made on the consumer level, the next logical step for tech firms and information system firms is to move into green data centers.

This is a Guest Post by Samantha Peters, who frequently writes for entrepreneurial and tech blogs to share her perspectives on topics of social interest and importance to eco-conscious business people.


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