In this blog post
Computing and Sustainability
Last year, Alphabet and Google CEO, Sundar Pichai announced a moon-shot goal – To run every office and data center on electricity from clean sources by 2030. It is thus committed to go free of carbon, without using offsets and relying only on clean energy purchased near its locations – 24x7x365. On paper, it seems to be a very ambitious commitment to decarbonization ever by a corporate. There are reasons for dreaming so big. IDC estimates that the global data load will rise to a staggering 175 Zettabytes (ZB) by 2025. A single Zetabyte is a trillion Terabytes. And the way computing needs are evolving – we could breach this ahead of 2025.
The recent energy shortages and a short-term ban on crypto mining by some nations clearly indicate that the increased need for data centers and computing power will have consequences for the environment. The demand from data centers could account for 27% of all of Ireland’s energy demand by 2029 says a report. Ireland is already worried that despite everything they do they could fall short of their emission targets with the exponential growth of data centers. The data centers today account for at least 2% of the electricity consumption in the world as per a report by McKinsey. And it is increasing day by day.
The ongoing energy crisis across countries indicate green energy is already proving insufficient for our current consumption patterns. Will our planet have enough green energy for powering our computing and storage needs?
One way is more data center capabilities need to move to the cloud. The cloud companies not only have the economies of scale but also the clout to invest in technologies that can improve efficiency and energy use. That alone is not enough.
Cooling systems – what happens to all the water being used? Are data centers recycling it and reusing it?
Meanwhile what happens during the hardware refreshes at the data center? Are the components being recycled? Can the components be reused? Can the shelf life of servers be increased if non-critical things are being run on it?
Data centers are becoming increasingly innovative and moving towards green computing and greener technology to maximize efficiency and sustainability. IoT and Analytics is being widely used to enhance performance further.
But all this will come at a cost. Many companies today use the Carbon Offset trades for reducing their imprint. Also, are carbon offsets the right way? In the end, someone somewhere is still polluting the atmosphere. Most of the tech behemoths with their deep pockets could drive up the price of green electricity. This could make adopting green energy difficult for other consumers. Also, the green technologies come with other unwanted consequences. The solar panels that are built to prevent air pollution – comes with panels and batteries that need to be replaced. These parts either go into landfills or the oceans. Let us take wind farms for example. Wind farms need huge areas for being operated on. This could lead to massive deforestation and loss of habitat as well. But yes – they are greener than fossil fuels.
Sundar Pichai said we cannot hire the best of talent in the future if we do not pay attention to our sustainable goals. Many other technology companies are also taking their Sustainability Goals seriously and pursuing it. Some do it with powering offices with renewables. Some do it by purchasing offsets to go carbon neutral. Some do it by channeling their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives towards the environment. As millennials and Gen Z make sustainability as part of their daily lives, the Gen Alpha who will enter the workforce in the next decade will have sustainability ingrained in them. But is what we do enough?
What else can be done? The answer is with the Governments, corporations and individuals and themselves. Incrementally all of us will continue to make our investments and efforts towards increasing sustainability. Apart from the journey towards cut-throat computing efficiencies, some more questions need to be answered – how much data do we want to store? How much more data should we process? How much latency do we want to reduce? Does everything need 24/7 availability? Does everything need to be streamed and used without local copies? Does everyone need so much processing power?
We still have only one habitable planet. And nurturing it will mean finding a balance even in the computer power we seek.
- The Digitization of the World From Edge to Core – IDC