Powering the Cloud

Photo by Michael Graham Richard. Some rights reserved.

As technology companies expand their cloud storage services, data servers around the country are expanding and increasing their energy consumption. Several media and advocacy groups have taken note of these huge facilities’ power usage, and this week Apple has come under the microscope. Grist raises concerns over Apple’s new data center in Maiden, N.C., citing Greenpeace estimates that the facility will draw 100 megawatts of power, and noting that its power provider, Duke Energy, is “coal-heavy.”

Their criticism is based on Greenpeace statistics estimating the portion of major technology companies’ energy coming from coal. In terms of overall reliance on coal, Apple is in the lead at 55%, above rival cloud service providers Microsoft (39%), Amazon (33%), and Google (28%). A map compiling related Greenpeace data shows 52 of the largest data centers in the country and how reliant they are on coal.

Apple, for its part, highlights its planned construction of on-site renewable energy plants near the Maiden, N.C. center, to include a solar farm and fuel cell installation from which it plans to generate 60% of the center’s energy needs. They would not be the first to explore new strategies for powering their data centers, though. As we have previously posted, in a data center in Taiwan, Google runs cooling systems at night to chill liquid coolant for use during the following day. The nighttime electricity is cheaper due to low demand, and the reduced daytime electricity usage eases pressure on Taiwan’s electrical grid.

To better appreciate the energy accounting of “cloud” storage, I would like to see an examination of the efficiency cost or gain of outsourcing our data storage from individually-powered hard drives in our homes around the country to a few massive data centers thousands of miles away.

One response to this post.

  1. […] to the issue of power usage (and the accompanying emissions, depending  on the energy sources) by data centers before. The New York Times produced several lengthy pieces this week regarding the ongoing effects […]


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