If you ever wanted to read about how data centers are single handedly destroying the planet through intentionally wasteful design and greedy, unrestrained, unnecessary consumption all driven by the voracious demands of modern consumers, well now’s your chance. That’s the New York Times’s take over the weekend, which you can of course read online on the device of your choosing and thereby help waste yet more energy.
Data centers are gobbling up more and more energy as our society’s fascination with data accelerates. And there’s no doubt they could be doing it more efficiently. But my takeaway from this sort of article is the same one I usually have when the media get that green glint in their eye, even those with PhDs like the author of the NYT article.
You know what I mean, when we could all just be living in utopia if everyone would just go out tomorrow and buy solar panels and put a windmill in the backyard (just not where it blocks anyone’s view or chops up any endangered birds), buy organic, and pretend we know what a carbon footprint is. I’m an environmentalist but I was also trained as a chemical engineer, and I know a one-sided anti-technology troll when I hear it on TV or read it in the newspaper.
Yep, data centers use a lot of energy (who knew!?), but so did the way we used to share information and work together. Data center designers and operators are at the forefront of new technology implementation and testing around the world and they know more than anyone just how important it is to contain energy consumption. But no matter how successful they are, the fact is that the data center’s place in our economy is only going to grow from here – and its energy consumption must inevitably follow. And because of that, there will always be those who view the industry as the devil of the day.
Powering data centers was, is, and will be a huge job in which the bulk of existing facilities are inevitably wasteful by the standards of the latest ones. It is, therefore, unlikely we will ever measure up to the standards by which our hyperactive, short-attention-span society has at any given time. Economics and the pace of technological development make that inevitable.
But it’s just the media’s way of getting more eyeballs: exposing the obvious via one-sided hyperbole to stir up the pot. That this weekend the target was the data center is just a sign of the times — i.e. the arrival of the data center as important enough to the world to be an easy but impenetrable target. After all, if you want to see people get really mad, just add an extra half second of response time to each click on all their devices in order to save energy. In the meantime, let’s just get on with the construction of the infrastructure of the new world we’ll be living in next year.
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