While media reports are doing a great job of educating the public about the energy consumption of data centers – a subject that not many people might think about day-to-day – a recent study shows that even as data center loads continue to grow exponentially, their energy consumption has not grown at the same rate.
A recent Bloomberg article, on the flip side, indicates that investors are becoming wary of data centers due to their increasing water consumption, a hot button topic in popular data center markets like California.
The data center industry, in other words, dodges one efficiency and sustainability crisis only to step foot in another one.
By now, even those outside of the industry have heard it: data centers consume 2% of all energy in the USA. They have as big a carbon footprint as the airline industry. Your Snapchats are killing the planet via data use. And so on.
It’s true that data center demand continues and will continue to skyrocket. More and more devices are being connected to the internet and all of them have to link to a data center somewhere. Businesses are increasingly decommissioning their on-premise server rooms and moving to colocation or the cloud.
Somewhere around the turn of the decade, while energy consumption continued to increase, it slowed down. Some theorized the recession limited data center demand; but facilities were also increasing their efficiencies dramatically. Facebook and Google are redesigning their data centers every few years with new cooling advances. Facilities are opening up strategically in locations that allow free cooling or access to direct renewable energy.
Ultimately, the more efficient a data center can operate, the better it is for data center service providers and users alike. This recent report from the Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab demonstrates that if data centers did not improve their energy efficiency, they would use an additional 600 billion kWh by 2020.
The report further theorizes that if more businesses aggressively migrate to cloud computing, energy consumption from data centers could actually decrease by 33 billion kWh by 2020, which would be 45% more energy efficient than if current trends continue.
But meanwhile, another wrinkle in data center resource consumption is catching the attention of the mainstream. Water consumption has been a rising concern among data center professionals in the past few years, with the Green Grid introducing a Water Efficiency Metric and more talk about recycling gray water, immersion cooling methods, and reporting on water use spreading throughout the industry. A large data center can pump hundreds of millions of gallons of water through cooling units, humidifiers, and support infrastructure every year — or even millions of gallons every month.
The report in Bloomberg shows that the water consumption of large scale data center facilities may finally have an impact on the bottom line of facilities beyond simply paying those hefty water bills.
Bloomberg claims that investors have taken notice of the millions of gallons used by data centers, especially in drought-prone states like California, which also happens to be one of the biggest data center markets in the world. The California governor recently signed an emergency executive order to further conserve water statewide.
Ultimately, money talks. While desert and drought-suffering states may restrict data center water consumption when things get dire, data center services are too necessary to die completely. What may happen is a shift as investors reward companies placing data centers in areas that have abundant resources.
The increased scrutiny could help push data center designers to embrace more efficient models, too. Greenpeace and the New York Times were some of the first to draw attention to data center electricity consumption, and while efficiencies are a natural side effect of the business of operating a data center, those reports may have helped lead to PUE and other energy efficient improvements. Water consumption in data centers might have its own watershed moment soon.