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Tom Friedman to data centers: 'Get ready for carbon tax'

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman told data center managers last week that the dangers of climate change and overpopulation call for drastic measures, including a possible carbon emission tax.

NEW YORK -- If there's anything a data center manager can take from a Tom Friedman talk on disappearing sea ice and petro-dictatorships, it's this: A carbon emission tax on data centers might not be far off.

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The New York Times columnist and author spoke at the Uptime Institute's conference in New York last week, addressing data center facility managers on the dangers of climate change in a world that's getting increasingly crowded. Much of his speech was based on his newest book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, though he did reference the data center industry once.

"Relative to the total energy footprint, data centers are very small," he said. "But it's growing, and one we should be paying attention to."

Green data center 'revolution' in the offing
In 2007, Jonathan Koomey from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published a report showing that in 2005, data centers accounted for about 1.2% of all energy consumption in the country. The EPA estimated that one year later, that number was up to 1.5% and climbing.

Today, the U.S. government and other countries are taking carbon emissions seriously. The Environmental Protection Agency last week formally declared carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases to be harmful air pollutants. It's a move that is thought to set the stage for a carbon tax of some kind.

You have to define rules and implement them.
Thomas Friedman,
author and columnist,the New York Times

Kai Reichardt, data center manager for UniCredit Group, an Italian bank, said his company recently built a data center over a canal so it could use free water cooling instead of expending energy for mechanical cooling. And he said the company will also investigate other opportunities to save.

"You have to define rules and implement them," he said. "You have to punish the polluters and push the innovators."

Richard Savage, a U.S.-based IT consultant for the province of Ontario, Canada, agreed.

"What the federal government should say is that it's going to hurt if you're dirty, and it's going to feel really good if you adapt quickly," he said.

Friedman promoted the idea of a "green revolution." It's a color that data centers are now familiar and, in many cases, inundated with. Some users have wearied of hearing the word green, saying it's just a hackneyed, marketing-focused way of saying that data centers should follow best practices. Don't worry, Friedman said. When the green revolution ends, the word green won't matter anymore.

"You'll know the green revolution is done when there's no such thing as a green building," he said. "There will only be a building, and you won't be able to build it unless it's built with the highest levels of efficiency."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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