With biology getting data-intensive, the costs of analyzing the data has become larger than the costs of acquiring the data. Although scientists are starting to recognize the significance of bioinformatic analysis, steep energy costs for running the servers is one aspect that is rarely mentioned in academic circles. Lack of transparency regarding power bill is one reason. Typically, the servers at academic institutions are maintained by high- performance computing centers, and the researchers pay for them through a bulk charge called ‘institutional overhead’.
Internet companies are innovators in the respect of running large number of servers, and they came up with many solutions to optimize energy usage. However, there may still be large amount of waste as New York Times explained in their article The Cloud Factories Power, Pollution and the Internet:
A yearlong examination by The New York Times has revealed that this foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.
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.
To guard against a power failure, they further rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show. In Silicon Valley, many data centers appear on the state governments Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory, a roster of the areas top stationary diesel polluters.
The claims made in the article were not liked by an industry practitioner, who wrote this rebuttal -
As I was reading this New York Times article on data centers and power use, there was mainly one word stretching, doppler-like through my head: Nooooooo!
Not because the article exposed some secret that everyone thats worked on websites at scale knows and this intrepid reporter was blowing the lid on our quasi-masonic-illuminati conspiracy. Not because there was information in it that was in any way shocking.
The reason I was yelling in my head was that I could see, clear as day, how people who dont know whats involved in running large scale websites would take this article. Just look at the comments section.
The assertions made in it 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.