It's no secret that new data centers are being built around the world to support mobile devices and cloud computing. Intel watched what markets its servers ship to and concluded that $450 billion a year was flowing into new data centers -- "one of the world's more significant capital investments," said Intel CEO Paul Otellini in October 2011.
That's a distressing development, according to an article in the New York Times Sept. 22 by James Glanz. The new data centers accelerate power consumption and lead to more carbon dioxide production and environmental degradation, Glanz wrote. InformationWeek, in response, pointed out that more computing is being done on less power, and that trend is not yet exhausted.
Furthermore, some of the computing -- say, when you're shopping on Amazon or planning a trip -- is done by moving bits around instead of moving 4,000-pound cars through cities to bricks-and-mortar stores or travel agencies. A full energy audit might find that cloud computing is more energy efficient than predecessor platforms, and many of its activities replace more material- and energy-consuming ones in the physical world.
Nevertheless, scientists may one day conclude that global warming is producing larger hurricanes on the East Coast and extended droughts in the Midwest. At that point it's possible to see government deciding global warming threatens society's survival and future use of cloud data centers must be rationed, whether that's the right decision or not.
I'm betting the electricity consumed per unit of computing will continue to decline and the productivity of work accomplished in the cloud will become a strong counter-argument to rationing. But this is an arms race that many data center architects and foot soldiers in enterprise data centers and cloud computing centers will have to win.
Image Credit: Flickr user Hythe Eye