The ‘big bad data police’ will call unless there is an increased focus on data centre efficiency

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Without such practices in place, providers will be unable to protect consumers from excessive data restrictions as data centres seek to satisfy customer demands against dwindling energy supplies. 

Roel Castelein (pictured), EMEA marketing chair for The Green Grid, explained, ‘The growth of global data centre activity, and its energy consumption, are startling. According to the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, data exchanges have increased by 1,500 times between 2000-2015, from processing 18 terabytes to 27,842 terabytes in that period. This is an annual growth rate of 100 times, with this figure set to expand even further with each passing year. Combined with the fact that data centres (the main powerhouses behind this data exchange) consume two to three per cent of global energy supplies, you have a growing energy sustainability problem.

‘Looking at this issue from a ground-level perspective, governments, companies and individuals increasingly produce and consume more data. Data needs electricity for it to be stored, processed and sent. So Big Data assumes either more electricity will be generated, which will increase environmental pollution through continued use of fossil fuels, or data will be more efficiently handled against the same amount of power.

‘If governments and companies decide to rely upon increased energy generation, they will not be able to keep up with the demands of Big Data without significantly contributing to environmental pollution levels. In this future, how would the world look? Would governments step in to regulate Facebook usage, only in daylight hours? Would citizens have the right to only 12 Google searches per day? Should we tax companies on their levels of data usage? This might seem laughable now, but data rationing is a likely outcome if we do not tackle data growth and the underlying demands placed on power consumption.

‘This is, of course, highly avoidable. An alternative vision of the future is where efficient use of technological resources save the day. Today, an estimated 10 million servers run idle, consuming energy and not processing any tasks, meaning that potential efficiency gains are extensive. Cold storage, for instance, uses compute power only when necessary. Distributed computing could be another part of the solution. Instead of having all data grouped in one central place, it would make sense to have data processing at the base of a cell tower, or even in a mobile phone. Carriers could even propose to use idle mobile phone capacity in return for a loyalty program. This would divide up data processing and assign it to the link in the value chain (device – network – data centre) that makes most sense in terms of energy efficiency.’

Roel concluded, ‘So should we be afraid of the data police? I hope not, but there is a big challenge in powering Big Data. In particular ICT vendors need to lighten up and evolve their outdated “Ford T” operating systems! There is the potential to create countless tailored variations to suit each individual or business’ data needs, tweaked for optimal energy efficiency in each case. In this way, we can start to ensure that Big Data storage and consumption is clean, sustainable and unrestricted.’

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