NYTimes on the link between information, polution and energy

If you’re looking for some good background information about the link between the Internet and climate change, please read this very important article: Power, Pollution and the Internet. Put starkly, the article states:

A yearlong examination by The New York Times has revealed that this foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.

Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found.

And there is the most shocking bit of information:

Energy efficiency varies widely from company to company. But at the request of The Times, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company analyzed energy use by data centers and found that, on average, they were using only 6 percent to 12 percent of the electricity powering their servers to perform computations. The rest was essentially used to keep servers idling and ready in case of a surge in activity that could slow or crash their operations.

Check out this followup discussion: Information’s Environmental Cost. In particular there is a nice response by Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller, authors of Greening the Media:

There are technological fixes for the Internet’s environmental problem — moving data centers off the coal-fired power grid and onto hydro-electric, solar, geothermal and other sources; designing energy efficient devices; and using smart grids to regulate and reduce domestic and workplace energy consumption.But these fixes will not succeed without a corresponding transformation of our consumer culture into a culture of sustainability, one that ensures that social, political, and economic development does exceed or irreversibly damage the Earth’s abilities to supply and renew the natural resources upon which we depend.