The internet is simply awe-inspiring and unstoppable in its growth. Crazy amounts of data are being created and stored every minute. So far, data centers have been able to keep up with the amount of data they have to store and process, but as demand grows and more servers are put to work, the resulting power consumption has verged on unsustainable.
Many data centers are working to update their equipment and optimize their layouts to be more energy efficient, but the true savior in recent years has been a steady transition to the ‘cloud’ model of data storage. Cloud computing has monetarily benefitted about 82% of reporting companies that made the transition, and it eased up power draw from large data centers, but its stabilizing effect is winding down.
The surge in popularity of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin is one cited reason that power consumption is getting out of hand. According to a Morgan Stanley report from January 2018, cryptomining will use a projected 140 terawatt-hours of electricity during 2018, which amounts to about 0.6 percent of total global power use. That number may look miniscule at first, but cryptomining is just one small result of data processing.
Large players like Microsoft and Google are pouring some time and money into some innovative subaquatic solutions. Microsoft is working on an undersea compact data center, and Google is developing its second private undersea intercontinental cable while also investing in other relevant companies’ expensive cable ventures. The future private cable will run from Virginia to France’s west coast, with the working plan that it will broaden bandwidth between Google’s cluster of data centers in North Virginia and its Belgium campus. Because of high demand and pressure, Google is attempting to speed up a normally years-long process.
Using renewable energy sources to get data centers to be less of a leech on the world power supply has also been a recent mission of both Microsoft and Google. Microsoft in particular is testing the use of large batteries on its Virginia data center campuses to see if large variations in electricity use throughout the day can be “smoothed out.” Microsoft director of energy Sean James addressed his vision for their experiments’ applications:
“In the future, you don’t have a data center or a power plant. It’s something in the middle. A data plant, for example, where this thing isn’t just a load on the grid, it’s an asset on the grid.”
A nice thought, but still in its experimental stages, and so a long time off from fixing our immediate needs.