Patrice Riemens on Tue, 5 May 2009 11:59:57 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Bobbie Johnson: Power Failure: how huge appetite for electrecity threatens Internet's giants (The Guardian)

Told you so ...
And Google isn't gonna to eat itself - YouTube will...
Cheerio, p+2D!

In today's Guardian:

(NB S/l is the title of the article in the paper edition)

Web providers must limit internet's carbon footprint, say experts
Soaring online demand stretching companies' ability to deliver content as
net uses more power and raises costs

By Bobbie Johnson in San Francisco
Sunday 3 May 2009 14.22 BST

The internet's increasing appetite for electricity poses a major threat to
companies such as Google, according to scientists and industry executives.

Leading figures have told the Guardian that many internet companies are
struggling to manage the costs of delivering billions of web pages, videos
and files online ? in a "perfect storm" that could even threaten the
future of the internet itself.

"In an energy-constrained world, we cannot continue to grow the footprint
of the internet ? we need to rein in the energy consumption," said Subodh
Bapat, vice-president at Sun Microsystems, one of the world's largest
manufacturers of web servers.

Bapat said the network of web servers and data centres that store online
information is becoming more expensive, while profits come under pressure
as a result of the recession.

"We need more data centres, we need more servers. Each server burns more
watts than the previous generation and each watt costs more," he said. "If
you compound all of these trends, you have the perfect storm."

With more than 1.5 billion people online around the world, scientists
estimate that the energy footprint of the net is growing by more than 10%
each year. This leaves many internet companies caught in a bind: energy
costs are escalating because of their increasing popularity, while at the
same time their advertising revenues come under pressure from the

One site under particular scrutiny is YouTube ? now the world's
third-biggest website, but one that requires a heavy subsidy from Google,
its owner. Although the site's financial details are kept under wraps, a
recent analysis by Credit Suisse suggested that it could lose as much as
$470m (£317m) this year, as it succumbs to the high price of delivering
power-intensive videos over the internet.

And while the demand for electricity is a primary concern, a secondary
result of the explosion of internet use is that the computer industry's
carbon debt is increasing drastically. From having a relatively small
impact just a few years ago, it is now leapfrogging other sectors like the
airline industry that are more widely known for their negative
environmental impact.

However, tracking the growth of the internet's energy use is difficult,
since internal company estimates of power consumption are rarely made

"A lot of this internet stuff is fairly secretive," Rich Brown, an energy
analyst at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California, told the

"Google is probably the best example: they see it as a trade secret: how
many data centres they have, how big they are, how many servers they

One study by Brown, commissioned by the US environmental protection
agency, suggested that US data centres used 61bn kilowatt hours of energy
in 2006. That is enough to supply the whole of the UK for two months, and
1.5% of the entire electricity usage of the US.

Brown said that despite efforts to achieve greater efficiency, internet
use is growing at such a rate that it is outstripping technical
improvements ? meaning that American data centres could account for as
much as 80bn kWh this year.

"Efficiency is being more than overwhelmed by continued growth and demand
for new services," he said. "It's a common story ? technical improvements
are often taken back by increased demand."

Among the problems that could result from the internet's voracious hunger
for electricity are website failures and communications disruption costing
millions in lost business every hour ? as well as power cuts and brownouts
at plants which supply data centres with electricity.

To combat this, initiatives are taking place across the industry to cope
with the problem, including new designs for data centres, innovative
cooling methods and more investment in renewable energy.

Researchers at Microsoft's £50m research lab in Cambridge are even turning
to older technology in an attempt to turn the clock back ? by replacing
energy-hungry new machines with the systems used in older, less powerful

"It turns out that those processors have been designed to be very energy
efficient, basically to make batteries last," said Andrew Herbert, the
director of Microsoft Research Cambridge.

"We found we can build more energy-efficient data centres with those than
with the kind of high performance processors you find in a typical

Google was among the first internet companies to take action to reduce its
footprint by developing its own data centres ? but even though it pumped
an estimated $2.3bn into infrastructure projects last year, it remains
unclear whether it is winning the battle.

The company's vice-president of operations, Urs Hölzle, told the Guardian
that it was struggling to contain energy costs. "You have exponential
growth in demand from users, and many of these services are free so you
don't have exponential growth of revenue to go with it," he said.

"With good engineering we're trying to make those two even out ? but the
power bill is going up."

Despite mounting evidence that the internet's energy footprint is in
danger of running out of control, however, Hölzle dismissed concerns about
the environmental impact of using the web as "overblown".

"One mile of driving completely dwarfs the cost of a search," he said.
"Internet usage is part of our consumption, just like TV is, or driving.
There is consumption there, but in the grand scheme of things I think it
is not the problem." © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

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