Digital Pollution

by Ian Rosenwach on 9.23.2012

“It is absolutely a race between our ability to create data and our ability to store and manage data,” Mr. Burton said.

Our ability to create data is winning.

The New York Times has a good article on data center energy consumption.  It turns out the “cloud” and the dozens of web services we all use daily is causing an energy efficiency problem.

Data centers are inherently wasteful in their energy utilization due to the fact that only a small subset of the data is actively being used at any moment.  Therefore there are a lot of “idle” servers not being actively used by consumers.

It’s easy for us to understand the environmental impact of buying ziploc bags.   We throw away a plastic bag and take the trash out.  We don’t get that same feeling when we use a website or  mobile app – there’s nothing tangible that tells us the environmental impact of our consumption.

For all the photos we share, videos we upload, emails we send, Tweets we post, directions we get, dates we go on, and documents we write – that data has to be stored somewhere.  Even after we’ve long forgotten about it.

The Market

This paragraph data center relationships with utilities, italics mine –

Data centers are among utilities’ most prized customers. Many utilities around the country recruit the facilities for their almost unvarying round-the-clock loads. Large, steady consumption is profitable for utilities because it allows them to plan their own power purchases in advance and market their services at night, when demand by other customers plummets.

Why can’t the data centers figure out how to plan purchases and not use as much power when service usage is low?  This could mean a lack of innovation.  It also sounds like utility companies are benefitting from an inefficient business practice.

 The Opportunity

Opportunistic solutions could answer these questions –

  1. What technologies can enable more efficient energy efficiency in data centers?
  2. How could companies that have high data needs lower costs by improving energy efficiency practices?
  3. What can be done to increase consumer awareness of the issue?
“IT” as a business driver

IT- it’s one of my least favorite words.   Mostly for the connotations around it.

From a business perspective, the role of the IT department  is often to keep the system uptime as high as possible – ideally 99.99…..%.   The business costs of prolonged downtime are enormous, and can mean the end of a company.

If IT was viewed as a business driver, and not just something to “keep the lights on”, companies might be inclined to allocate resources away from data centers and towards revenue-driving, business focused projects.  This takes a leadership team which understands the connection between technology, the product, and their customers.


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