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Power Surge

Nine million servers hum in computer rooms across the United States, driving our information-obsessed, transaction-fueled economy every second of every day. It's an astonishing display of computer-processing power--and an insatiable electricity hog that's become a huge expense for many companies.

If racks and racks of Unix, Windows, and Linux servers deliver megaflops of computational speed, megawatts of power consumption are the price businesses pay. Data center electricity costs are soaring as companies deploy growing numbers of servers, consuming ever more power, and, in the process, throwing off heat that needs to be cooled using still more juice.

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The problem could get worse before efforts to contain it catch up. Data center electricity costs are already in the range of $3.3 billion annually, and the number of servers in the United States will jump 50% over the next four years, IDC predicts. The data center utility bill exceeds the cost of acquiring new computers for some companies. And it can cost more to cool a data center than it does to lease the floor space to house it. Edward Koplin, a principal at engineering firm Jack Dale Associates, estimates the average annual utility cost for a 100,000-square-foot data center has reached $5.9 million.

Ironically, state-of-the-art computers

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