Contact Green Peace about that! They would definitely know. Greenpeace.org
Every extra piece of work that a computer does costs energy. The more work a computer does, the more energy it consumes. Since that’s impossible to avoid, the more work that a data center does, the more energy it consumes.
Of course there are ways to make computers and data centers more energy-efficient, but these methods have downsides. For example, significant electricity can be saved by not using specialized air conditioning. The downside is that the computers will wear out more quickly. Computers, hard disks and monitors can be put to sleep when not used, but that causes a small inconvenience when they need to be woken up. Powering off computers completely causes rapid wear to the integrated circuit packaging, eventually causing them to crack and fail. Cloud computing can be more economical, because not every computer needs to always be running every piece of software it uses, but cloud computing assumes users only want to run certain software, in certain ways, and doesn’t provide much advantage in many situations. It can be more trouble than it’s worth.
So it’s possible to optimize data center energy consumption, but that doesn’t come without its own costs.
Without question, bigger data centers will be more energy efficient. They will benefit from economies of scale: better use of air conditioning, expensive power conditioning to protect equipment, standardized computer equipment that is purchased in bulk, and efficient, trained employees.
Considering what is best ecologically is a very difficult question. It could be a bad move replacing an old computer that is not energy efficient with one that is. Creating an expensive, high-tech device causes an enormous amount of pollution in the fabrication process. When a computer is no longer used, it must be recycled, which also costs money, and creates some pollution. How do you know when, overall, it’s ecologically better to replace a computer? (Or for a data center to replace its computers?) That’s a question that will vary, even from user to user. If you have a 5 year old computer that works perfectly well, that is only causally used to browse the Internet, access mail and Facebook once a day, for an hour, then it’s really not using very much electricity. On the other hand, if that computer is running one of the “@Home” projects, 24×7, then it is consuming $100s of electricity, every year. If it could be replaced by an inexpensive, energy-efficient computer, it might reduce the electricity bill considerably. But the question is, even with a substantial electricity savings, how long would it take to pay off the cost of the new computer? Years.
So for a data center to want to be green is fine, but if they are just trying to make a political statement to attract customers, and they’ve done that at the expense of replacing a lot of completely workable equipment, then they shouldn’t be encouraged by our patronage, because overall, they may have just caused significant ecological damage as an advertising stunt (or out of ignorance).
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