Data center planned obsolescence (part 2)

If you’re constantly trashing your architecture and always buying the latest, most ‘efficient’ stuff then of course you can parade around saying how ‘efficient’ you are. The fact that your wasteful behavior is hidden underneath your creative accounting, and that this behavior is accepted and almost encouraged by established media and industry (keep watching Netflix) tells us we have a world built on maximum growth, maximum waste, maximum consumption.

A data center that claims to be a renewable champion because it’s using renewable electricity very efficiently, but isn’t accounting for its servers, infrastructure and equipment pollution, is like a petrol station achieving ‘zero carbon’ because it’s not accounting for the petrol, or an airport blowing a green horn because it’s not accounting for the airplanes.

Data centers may have become more electrically efficient but here are three reasons not to be complacent:

  1. A lot of electricity is wasted when servers are on but not being utilized. The mega data centers have much better utilization rates than the private data centers which dominated around 2010. However, that shift and resulting energy efficiency gain has already been achieved.
  2. Moore’s Law: Every year IT stuff gets faster and cheaper … until it doesn’t. Moore’s Law, meet the Laws of Physics. Moore’s Law is slowing down. The efficiency gains in processing and storage are not what they used to be. But data production isn’t slowing down. If anything, it’s speeding up.
  3. Increased electrical efficiency has often been achieved by increased water use, putting more stress on an already stressed water supply. Globally, data centers consume the equivalent of 120,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water per year. Water discharged includes contaminants such as biocide chemicals, dissolved salts, acidic or alkaline pH correctors, copper and steel corrosion protectors, and metal particles.

The data centers are in some ways the spear point of global warming. Out of them flow the accelerants of marketing conversion and engagement. Much of the data in the data centers is about us and it is used to maximize our consumption habits, not our conservation. If we shut off the data centers, we’d cool down our rabid purchase and engagement habits, and the planet would most definitely cool down too.

Who owns and uses most of these mega data centers? Adtech companies like Facebook and Google, and that great destroyer of climate, amazon.com. How ironic that amazon.com will probably contribute more to the destruction of the Amazon and other life systems than any other company in history. Amazon, that company born and raised on big data. Data that accelerates consumption. Amazon that destroys millions of brand new, perfectly working physical products because big data told it to do so. What could express digital ‘dematerialism’ better than the literal trashing of servers (after three years many servers are destroyed) and brand new products?

The Cloud is on the ground. Digital is the great accelerant, the hidden hand that fires the furnace of global warming. But nothing to see here. Please keep consuming. Binging is good. All you can eat is good. Support growth even if its costs the earth.

Amazon Dunfermline fulfillment center alone destroying over six million new products a year.
Dell carbon footprint Poweredge FC830
The Internet Eats Up Less Energy Than You Might Think - The New York Times
Norway Power Consumption at Record on Electric Cars and Heating - Bloomberg
The data center life story - DCD
We’re not prepared for the end of Moore’s Law
A Circular Economy for the Data Centre Industry