We live in an increasingly digital, connected and information-centric world, not only transforming the way we live and work every day, but also the foundation of our global economic market.
“Shortly, hourly Internet traffic will exceed the Internet’s annual traffic for the year 2000.”
Data centers and server farms, cloud services and e-commerce, Internet of Things (IoT) and sensors, smart cities and autonomous vehicles, and so on serve and support individuals, institutions, organizations, corporations and industry around the globe. Amazon, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and many others rely heavily on server farms to host and operate their cloud-computing services.
On a daily basis, roughly 3 billion people, businesses, organizations, and governments connect on the Internet by searching, shopping, socializing, transacting, and interacting through computers and mobile devices, is expected to contribute more than $4.1012 to the global GDP in 2016 with an annual growth estimated at 10% per year (faster than the global economy as a whole). The digital economy is projected to have a greater impact in developing countries, where it is expected to grow at an even higher rate (15-25% / year), be a critical source of employment, and enable social and political changes.
These increases in digital data and usage is the reason data centers are “one of the fastest-growing users of electricity in developed countries.”
Data centers use sizeable amounts of power for two main reasons: to run the actual equipment (addressed by designing energy efficient data storage and computing systems) and to cool the equipment. Data centers have typically been located near concentrations of people and with good fiber network and power grid connectivity. However, global digital companies, such as Google and Facebook, build massive data centers around the world since local management is not needed. Using natural ways to bring down cooling costs of data centers, such as arctic locations, proximity of cold water flows, are getting more popular given cooling is the second main energy usage component of data centers.
In 2015, the Internet and its digital network was estimated to be roughly 3% of the global electricity supply and 2% of global carbon emissions., As the numbers and size of data centers and server farms continue to increase so will their respective energy usage and associated carbon / greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions.,, Our increasingly digital, connected and information-centric world has an actual and increasingly substantial energy, climate and environmental impact.
A Global Challenge
The burgeoning digital market, with a current carbon footprint similar to the airline industry, may already appear massive, but experts are warning that the energy used by data centers is doubling every four years, despite innovations in data storage technology, and will likely triple the amount of electricity its consumes in the next decade. This type of growth will put unbearable burden on global power generation systems, even with a complete shift to all renewables, but simultaneously can also offer opportunities for dematerialization and decoupling of economic growth from environmental impact.