Data centers that provide support to companies, internet services, and our lives on social media require a lot of power. As they grow in number, there is pressure to make them efficient in their energy use and lessen their impact on the environment.
When you’re watching “Squid Game” on Netflix or posting a gif image on Twitter and Facebook, both create an unintended chain reaction that consumes energy. This isn’t just for personal devices but also in data centers spread across the globe where this information is kept.
Nowadays, the majority of the world’s IP traffic is routed via data centers. They are not only captured only once. “For every bit of data that travels the network from a data center to end users, another five bits of data are transmitted within and among data centers,” according to the International Energy Agency’s “Data Centres and Data Transmission Networks” report that was released on November 20, 2021.
But the basic Google searches in the past do not compare with the massive electricity bills associated with cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI), the emergence of 5G mobile networks, self-driving automobiles, and cryptocurrency mining. Streaming services alone can represent 87% of the internet’s consumer traffic this year, according to the report.
It’s not surprising that only a small number of firms account for a significant part of this use of electricity. The most prominent spots are US Big Tech giants Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, along with Alibaba and Alibaba in China. In the second place, there is Facebook as well as Apple.
The coronavirus epidemic has only enhanced their power and usage through remote work, videoconferencing, and file sharing using cloud-based services.
Data centers in big demand
But what exactly is a center? It’s not an overheated room at the rear of an office that houses two or three servers that make a lot of noise. These are typically specially designed boxes that are not very attractive and have rows upon rows of special equipment for processing, storing, and transmitting information to users.
The data facilities “can scale from being small for an individual organization up to handling the traffic for global conglomerates such as Amazon with hundreds of millions of consumers and product data,” Richard Blanchard, a lecturer in renewable energy at the Loughborough University’s School of Mechanical, Electrical, and Manufacturing Engineering said to DW.
Data centers are appearing all over the world due to the increasing digitalization of our planet and increased regulation. In the same way, companies are undergoing a process of getting rid of their in-house servers and leasing spaces on cloud servers to concentrate on their core activities and not worry about IT concerns.
In many instances, it is less expensive as well as more effective to contract out the cost of buying and maintaining the equipment to companies outside. This is not surprising, as most Data centers operate as “colocation” centers that are used by customers and run by specialist firms. They comprise the bulk of data centers. However, it’s the massive “hyperscale” data centers owned by Bit Tech companies that get the most focus.
Why do data centers use so much energy?
At present, there are 7.2 million data centers around the world, according to the German Statistics Office. In the United States, the US has 2,670 data centers, which is by far the highest. The US is followed by the UK by 452, Germany by 443, China and China, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, France, and Japan.
Data centers require electricity to power their equipment. They also need a large amount of it to keep their equipment cool. How much power data centers consume is subject to discussion.
Many experts estimate that the storage of data and transmission into and out of data centers consume around 1% of the world’s electricity. This percentage hasn’t changed much since 2010, despite the amount online users have increased by a third, and the global traffic on the internet has increased by 15 percent since then, according to the International Energy Agency.
It’s not always the case in Europe. The report from the 2020 EU Commission study found that data centers within the 28 countries of the EU utilized 53.9 trillion terawatt-hours in 2010. This jumped to 76.8 Terawatt-hours in 2018, which equates to 2.7 percent of the total EU demand for electricity.
The study predicts that consumption will increase to 3.2 percent of total demand by 2030. In the calculations, cryptocurrency mining is not included, nor are data transfer networks as such.
Companies are leading the way
Moving many of these tiny, inefficient systems into larger data centers has brought greater efficiency. Forcing them to bigger hyperscale facilities will save energy, as it focuses on the latest technology and expertise. Once the majority of companies have made this change, the task of keeping energy consumption under control will be a challenge since options for optimizing are limited.
Companies are paying attention, particularly the big Tech. It could be because of sustainability or fear of public backlash due to their impact on the environment. One way they’re attempting to solve the issue is to pursue increasing the amount of renewable energy. In addition to buying renewable energy for free, they are also investing in solar and wind projects to generate power.
To minimize the environmental impact of their operations, businesses are looking at low-carbon technology. Google created ways to reduce their energy consumption by 40% by adjusting their power requirements to the weather conditions and also to the demand of consumers,” said Blanchard. The company is planning to operate its data centers without carbon emissions by 2030.
The streaming services alone could account for 87% of the consumer internet traffic in the coming year. Image Boris Roessler/dpa/picture Alliance
The sustainability reports for 2020 were released by Facebook. Facebook declared that they utilized a total of 7.17 million megawatt-hours of electricity during the entire year. Of this, 6.966 million megawatt-hours were used to power data centers, and the remainder was used for its offices.
EU regulation is on the road?
The European Union is not ignoring the issue. In line with their digital strategy, they’ve established the goal of having climate-neutral data centers in 2030. Utilizing best practices such as energy-efficient cooling, reuse of heat, as well as better infrastructure and renewable energy could be a significant step towards getting there. But will efficiency be able to keep up with the growing need for Data Centers and stop energy usage from increasing?
Regulators and companies are facing a huge task to complete as the demand for social media, such as online shopping, consumer devices, and data centers. “The reason is connectivity of all types of systems that need to handle and process data. This will be a result of more people accessing online services as well as the range of organizations and services using these systems,” Blanchard said.