Inside Google’s Data Centers

Google Data Center Storm Trooper

Google’s opening up about their data centers in a pretty big way. From being secret to even the locations a few years ago they’ve now posted a street view tour, as well as some pretty great video. Facebook has also become a bit more open in terms of their data center operations.

Part of this openness is to make the “internet” seem more trustworthy and less intimidating. The other part is to show off the energy-saving improvements they are making in the wake of controversy data centers have faced over their power usage.

I think someone at Google or Facebook needs to get me a tour of their facility 😉 .

Microsoft Goes Carbon Neutral

From the giant itself:

Beginning in fiscal year 2013 (which starts this July 1), Microsoft will be carbon neutral across all our direct operations including data centers, software development labs, air travel, and office buildings. We recognize that we are not the first company to commit to carbon neutrality, but we are hopeful that our decision will encourage other companies large and small to look at what they can do to address this important issue.

This is actually rather impressive as Microsoft is a rather large company with a large data center operation. Back in 2009 they were looking at hitting 300k servers. Now with Windows Azure and a larger cloud presence, presumably that’s climbed quite a bit.

I’m sure it’s not purely a good dead, Microsoft notes in their blog post:

  • A smarter buildings pilot on Microsoft’s Redmond campus that uses software solutions to make our buildings more energy efficient, projected to achieve energy savings of approximately $1.5 million dollars in fiscal year 2013, and earn back our investment in only 18 months.

Google has tried a power meter and failed. Microsoft is dogfooding it’s effort and is seemingly doing well. I could see Microsoft expanding beyond the PC in a larger effort than in the past with solutions for businesses and perhaps eventually homes. I suspect that’s what Microsoft is really doing here. Forcing themselves to to be ahead of the curve.

Data Center Power Consumption

It’s hardly a secret that there is a serious demand for saving power in data centers. In a recent Times Magazine article:

Data centers worldwide now consume more energy annually than Sweden. And the amount of energy required is growing, says Jonathan Koomey, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. From 2000 to 2005, the aggregate electricity use by data centers doubled. The cloud, he calculates, consumes 1 to 2 percent of the world’s electricity.

To put that in a little more perspective, the 2009 census for Sweden puts the population at 9,263,872. Sweden’s population is just slightly higher than New York City (8,274,527 in 2007) or the state of New Jersey (8,682,661 estimate in 2008). Granted Sweden’s population density is 20.6/km2 compared to New York City’s 10,482/km2 or New Jersey’s 438/km2. Population density is important since that says a lot about energy consumption. Dense populations require less energy thanks to communal resources. I still suspect the average Swede uses less electricity than the average American anyway. All these numbers were pulled from Wikipedia.

The US Department of Energy does have data on power consumption and capacity as well as forecasts on consumption and production. The obvious downside in the data is the reliance on coal, oil and gas which have environmental impacts as well as political impacts and costs (we know about the instabilities of the oil market). This is why companies with lots of servers like Google are looking very carefully at power generation alternatives such as hydroelectric and solar.

We all benefit from data center efficiency. Lower cost computing is a big advantage to startups and encourages more innovation by removing price barriers. It’s also an advantage to the general public since the technology and tricks learned eventually trickle down to consumers. We already are seeing more efficient power supplies, some even beating the original 80 PLUS certification.

Perhaps if we started tracking “performance per watt” in addition to “watts per square foot” we’d be looking at things from a more sustainable perspective.

Data center capacity and consumption is pretty interesting when you look at all the variables involved. Growth, power costs, facility size, technology available, even foreign politics play a role in what it costs to operate.

Google Goes Back

Google Earth Hour
To raise awareness for Earth Hour, Google took the bold step of making the page black. I can’t remember the last time they made a change this bold. They did the same thing for the Google Israel site the other day (who participated a day early to prevent conflicts with the Sabbath). According to Google:

Google users in the United States will notice today that we “turned the lights out” on the homepage as a gesture to raise awareness of a worldwide energy conservation effort called Earth Hour. As to why we don’t do this permanently – it saves no energy; modern displays use the same amount of power regardless of what they display. However, you can do something to reduce the energy consumption of your home PC by joining the Climate Savers Computing Initiative.

On Saturday, March 29, 2008, Earth Hour invites people around the world to turn off their lights for one hour – from 8:00pm to 9:00pm in their local time zone. On this day, cities around the world, including Copenhagen, Chicago, Melbourne, Dubai, and Tel Aviv, will hold events to acknowledge their commitment to energy conservation.

Given our company’s commitment to environmental awareness and energy efficiency, we strongly support the Earth Hour campaign, and have darkened our homepage today to help spread awareness of what we hope will be a highly successful global event.