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New York Times article on data center power consumption draws ire

The New York Times' article cast data centers as power-hungry behemoths, drawing a stern and swift response from IT pros.

In a recent series entitled The Cloud Factories from The New York Times, the first installment by James Glanz depicts...

data centers as energy-guzzling, waste-producing behemoths, which drew the ire of many professionals in the field.

In his piece that ran with the online headline “Power, Pollution, and the Internet,” Glanz wrote “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.”

Critics of the piece responded in colorful fashion from all quarters:

From Forbes, Why The New York Times Story 'Power, Pollution and the Internet' is a Sloppy Failure, Dan Woods calls out several “distortions” in the Times’ article and includes several points to buttress his argument. Woods writes the utilization rates for servers can’t be known since large companies like Facebook and Google don’t share those numbers. Additionally, “[a]lthough the article mentions virtualization and the cloud as possible solutions to improve power utilization, VMware is not mentioned. If the reporter talked to VMware or visited their web site, he would have found massive amounts of material that documents how thousands of data centers are using virtualization to increase server utilization,” Woods wrote.

From Pando Daily, A Lot of Lead Bullets: A Blistering Response to the NYT on Data Center Efficiency, Diego Doval penned a lengthy response to Glanz’ article which brings up a point many have made: Unless you are an IT professional working in a data center, you’re not going to get an accurate portrayal of the industry. “The assertions made in [the Times’ article] essentially paint our engineers and operations people as a bunch of idiots who are putting together rows and rows of boxes on data centers and not caring what this costs to their businesses, nay, to the planet. And nothing could be further from the truth,” Doval wrote.

From GigaOM, NYT’s data center power reports like taking a time machine back to 2006, Katie Fehrenbacher acknowledges the Times’ article got “a couple things really right” but takes issue with lack of detail on the strides made within the last few years to increase data center energy efficiency. “The data center operators at the largest Internet companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo and eBay are so focused on energy efficiency of their newest data centers that new designs are starting to be widely adopted with technologies like open air cooling (getting rid of the huge air conditioning units in these things). New types of low power chips and servers are being developed by startups like SeaMicro, which was recently bought by AMD. The articles so far don’t mention these innovations,” Fehrenbacher wrote.

From The Verge, 30 billion watts and rising: balancing the internet's energy and infrastructure needs, Tim Carmody notes that Glanz specifically swipes at industry heavyweights like Google, Amazon and Facebook for their wasteful ways and for attempting to depict themselves as environmentally friendly. Carmody argues that our lives are enmeshed with the digital world and the article “focuses on frivolous media and entertainment, or ‘fantasy points and league rankings, snapshots from nearly forgotten vacations kept forever in storage devices.’ It doesn't really grapple with the cloud as an increasingly-essential element of infrastructure, powering industry, government, finance, and commerce, as well as personal communication and data storage.”


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The New York Times is using predictive analytics algorithms. Why isn't your enterprise?

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How big of an issue do you think data center power consumption really is?
This would have been spot-on 2-3 years ago, but we've made great strides.
Without know the current design and metrics used within the industry their conclusions are flawed.
The swipe on flywheels and the failure to mention initiatives like PUE or groups like the Green Grid struck me as huge omissions.
The cost of technology has finally arrived at a point where the major cost of delivering information is electrical power. As a result there is a major focus on power consumption and the industry is working to "right the ship".
While pointing a serious aspect - need for energy efficiency and preventing waste of resources - the article seems to miss considering the massive development being done the last years to improve power consumption by increasing utilisation and density as well as cooling technologies. At hp Critical Facilities Services we assessed and improved hundreds of our clients data centers energy efficiency profile worldwide. A further point which needs more rational look at is the aspect of business continuity. Demand for reliability of service and data drives the according design. Mixing different architectural components as dual feed, UPS design and emergency power doesn't stack redundancy but sticks to eliminating SPOF and building reliability as required by business. Sure, and if that was the intent to raise by NYT, it's not perfect and further developments are going on - some of them in emerging state, as revival of DirectCurrent, application of FuelCells, broad FreeCooling use and frameworks as CMM.

Seems that the 5-8 years old "Energy use in DC/ICT" as a topic reached mainstream.
The industry has made huge investments in improving energy efficiency and IT Utilization that have all but eliminated the concerns raised in this article.
Data centers are becoming more efficient. One thing the article does not mention, is the cost of downtime. Besides productivity or production losses, a company's reputation can be damaged.
By biggest objection is that the data is presented all out of proportion. It's 2% of our energy supply and it save 5 times its use in carbon (Smart 2020 report) by doing things smarter. Contrast this to cell phones which use as much or more energy, for instance, or lighting, or big screen TV's, or heating and cooling. Data Centers are making our world better, but you won't get that out of this article.
Who would believes anything from NYT
Clearly the NYT is not taking into consideration many technologies with in data centers that reduce waste (see the 1st response here, the VMware argument). I have to believe that optimizing data centers is something that most enterprises constantly look to address. Maybe most importantly, don't we have incentive's to improve inefficiencies? For example, it saves the average enterprise/SMB money on energy? The average data center is far from perfect, but definitely conscious of energy consumption.
We are very mindful of our electric bill and automatically bring up resources when needed and turn them off automatically when not needed.
The truth is generally more nuanced than a simple yes or no type answer and whenever your try to boil things down to that simple a level, you end up losing a lot of what is true...
Power used in the data centre has been topical over recent years. There is far more energy efficiency to be realised in the way that data is received and distributed. There is far more hardware "out there" The Data Centre has efficiency in economy of scale. Little in efficiencies distributed widly on a large scale will account for just as much of the global share, if not more than Data Centre's do. In that respect the data is old.
there are plenty of legacy data centers out there, but the economics of high energy costs and stakeholder demands will see the continued evolution towards greener DC's.
Crap NYT Technology coloumn as usual