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Blog Jun 13, 2016

How Much Energy Do US Data Centers Use?


Can you name all the digital services you use? Do you have a website? What about a Facebook page? How much video, audio, and imagery do you store online?

It’s nice to carry around your family photo album with you on your smartphone. It’s cool to have all sorts of videos, memories, and much of your important personal data with you wherever you go.

It’s so much more convenient than dozens of file folders. And because it all gets backed up across multiple geographic sites across the nation or globe, your data’s safe permanently. That’s something pretty cool many Americans didn’t have for most of their lives.

But, there is one problem with that. Something has to power it all. That means electricity has to come from somewhere. And it’s going to take the burning of natural resources to produce that electricity. And that means pollution gets released into the atmosphere. And that could mean more health problems, and possibly climate change.

What’s Going On?

Demand for data storage has grown so quickly that the need has advanced faster than technology’s ability to meet it efficiently.

Large corporations like Facebook, Google, and Apple use ultra-high-efficiency cloud server farms. According to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, big companies like these use less than 5% of all data center energy consumption. But, the problem is they’re not representative of the way most businesses use energy from data centers. So in this case, they’re doing a good job.

The real problem, according to the NRDC, is that up to 30% of all servers out there do no work, but still use large amounts of power. Others, though they’re not used as much as they could be, continue to suck big amounts of energy too.

The biggest users of energy are not the huge corporations. They use a large total amount because of their user demand. But they use it efficiently.

Instead, most data center power use comes from small, medium, and large corporate data centers, as well as multi-tenant data centers that smaller companies or private citizens use.

What Can You Do?

If you, or your company, use one of those small, multi-tenant colocation facilities, ask the facility how they ensure high energy efficiency. If you get an unsure or unclear answer, then you know they don’t do it.

Then, ask how you’re charged for the energy use. Because, in most cases, those costs are passed straight on to you.

According to the NRDC, this type of energy misuse could be reduced by 40% with the implementation of a few small measures. By 2020, it’s anticipated (if nothing’s done), this energy use will increase by 53%.

So, this presents a huge opportunity for energy savings. It’s your chance to be a part of public action, and making our world a better place.

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