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The data centers that float the world of cloud computing consumed 30 billion watts of power in 2012 -- as much power as is produced by 30 nuclear power stations -- and the cloud keeps growing.

The Hungry, Hungry Cloud

Dan Jones
4/22/2014
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Here's a startling statistic: If all the cloud computing services in the world were an actual country, that nation would be the about the sixth-largest electric power consumer in the world.

NPR reports that researchers at Greenpeace place the cloud right after Germany and before Russia.

That staggering volume of power consumption is driven by the massive data centers that store data around the world, allowing users to pull up documents and apps anywhere. The New York Times reported that in 2012 the cloud consumed 30 billion watts of power, as much as is produced by 30 nuclear power stations.

This has already led to some drastic measures by big data center users. Facebook has located a data center just outside the Arctic Circle to take advantage of the naturally cooling temperatures. Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) now powers its cloud with a mix of solar, hydro-electric and wind-generated electricity.

The trend towards more distributed data centers might make it easier to co-locate the storage end of the data center with solar power set-ups, wind farms and hydro-electric power plants. The front-end servers and a fast connection would be in urban areas, while the storage would be in rural areas where it easier to find and fund a power source. (See Reliance Rebrands With Its Head in the Cloud.)

Nonethless, it's worth asking just how we'll keep powering the cloud as it continues to get bigger.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/24/2014 | 9:38:17 AM
Re: Big v small
Yes -- we need to pursue all available options to keep up with our insatiable energy requirements while trying to keep the planet habitable.
brookseven
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brookseven,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/24/2014 | 9:31:03 AM
Re: Big v small
And Dennis I would add we need to keep up with technology.

Let me give you an example:  http://engineering.osu.edu/news/2013/06/ohio-state-pushes-clean-coal-technology-ahead

This could make coal of all things one of the best sources of clean energy that we have.  I think assuming that technology won't change all of this is bad.  If I use nuclear as an example, I lived in South Florida for about 15 years.  Turkey Point Nuclear Plant took nearly a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew and was just fine.  The Japanese plants got hit with their issues and that was a problem.

seven
mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/24/2014 | 8:49:21 AM
Re: Big v small
We've lived with nuclear power for more than a half-century now. Without it, our world would not be what it is, for good and bad. We are now 99.8% dependent on electric power to function as a society. So we're kind of stuck with it.
noLandMan
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noLandMan,
User Rank: Light Beer
4/24/2014 | 6:15:10 AM
Re: Big v small
I was with you all the way... until you brought up nuclear...

Let's keep that one out until someone figures out how to neutralize nuclear waste... you really don't want to leave in a 2mile radius from a nuclear plant, and you don't want a nuclear waste facility in your backyard either, so what would you do? 
noLandMan
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noLandMan,
User Rank: Light Beer
4/24/2014 | 6:08:47 AM
Re: Big v small
This has always been my concern about outsourcing Power Consumption and Carbon Footprint along with it. Once the enterprise relies on the outsourced data center, the power consumption goes to the cloud service provider, and so does the CFP. Same happens when you promote other interesting green initiatives such as Working from Home. The CFP is transfered to the employee who has to get power/cooling/heating under their roof to work, along with the extra networking needs (which also require power) to get vpn'd to work.

Question is, does the cloud need to be the giant we're building today, or can we live with less?
pcharles09
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pcharles09,
User Rank: Light Beer
4/22/2014 | 9:57:27 PM
Re: Big v small
The sad part about it is, that when we see it as problematic, that's when people tend to do nothing, and see it as a potential solution.
smkinoshita
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smkinoshita,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/22/2014 | 8:33:09 PM
Re: Big v small
@mendyk:  Yes, it's relatively small area overall -- and I imagine the management and politics involved would probably keep it from being efficient for awhile unless everyone got on board.  One or two parking lots wouldn't amount to much -- but it could be a different story entirely if all the lots or entire stretches of highways had solar panels overhead.
mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/22/2014 | 7:44:27 PM
Re: Big v small
Yes -- we need to pursue all these imperfect solutions. To pretend we can rely on the least-objectionable energy sources is, um, problematic.
mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/22/2014 | 7:42:19 PM
Re: Big v small
The solar farms now being created generally are being built on open land -- as is the case with Apple's two farms in North Carolina. Using barren land like deserts also is happening, and that makes sense. And I also agree that installing panels on developed properties is a good idea -- but that will provide a small percentage of the power we now require.
brookseven
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brookseven,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/22/2014 | 6:38:57 PM
Re: Big v small
Dennis,

Hydro is considered such an environmental issue that nobody (in the US anyway) is building new Hydro power.  Solar has the capital and space issues.  Wind has space, sightlines, and killing birds issues.  Both wind and solar have storage issues.  Nuclear has waste and other safety concerns.  Fossil fuels have global warming issues.  

And of course costs are not equal between sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source

 

seven

 

 

 
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