Remember way back when, back when you had a limited size on your free Hotmail account and you had to delete old messages or else you couldn’t get new mail?
Turns out those were the good old days, environmentally speaking.
Now we have unlimited inboxes holding thousands of emails we’re loath to delete but will never actually read, loads of free space to upload videos to YouTube that our friends will watch once and never again, Facebook accounts where we all upload the same photographs from the party last weekend…and the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, this “free” space isn’t actually free. It all needs to be stored somewhere, and that “somewhere” is a data center. These mammoth facilities house trillions of pieces of data on huge servers, all of which need to be powered – and cooled. Because computers generate heat, the majority of the power usage in a data center is to cool the facility. Depending on the location of the facility, this power bill can be astronomical. In 2005, data centers were taking up more than 1.4% of the total US energy consumption. And because the data storage requirements have more than doubled in the past 10 years, the energy requirements have grown with it. The prediction is, in fact, that between 2010-2015, twenty new 1,000 megawatt (mW) power plants will be required in order to feed data centers alone.
It’s also taking a personal toll. We can’t find anything. We maintain piles upon piles of virtual data, tens of thousands of photographs on our hard drives, but we can’t actually access anything easily. Just like that pile of paper on your office desk causes you stress, so too does the virtual pile of emails in your inbox.
So what’s to be done? To paraphrase the mantra of green folk everywhere: Reduce, reduce, reduce. Delete old emails and duplicates of photos. Take down those old videos off YouTube. Instead of keeping all 120 photos of last Saturday night’s party, including the out of focus or unflattering ones, delete everything that’s not worth keeping before you display the favorites. Your data center – and your friends – will thank you.
Photo credit: Shannon McKarney