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Cloud Computing Is Not the Energy Hog That Had Been Feared


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Majd Bakar, a Google vice president, in a Google cloud data center.

The largest cloud data centers are among the most efficient in the world, according to a new study.

Credit: Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The computer engine rooms that power the digital economy have become surprisingly energy efficient.

A new study of data centers globally found that while their computing output jumped sixfold from 2010 to 2018, their energy consumption rose only 6%. The scientists' findings suggest concerns that the rise of mammoth data centers would generate a surge in electricity demand and pollution have been greatly overstated.

The major force behind the improving efficiency is the shift to cloud computing. In the cloud model, businesses and individuals consume computing over the internet as services, from raw calculation and data storage to search and social networks.

The largest cloud data centers, sometimes the size of football fields, are owned and operated by big tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook.

Each of these sprawling digital factories, housing hundreds of thousands of computers, rack upon rack, is an energy-hungry behemoth. Some have been built near the Arctic for natural cooling and others beside huge hydroelectric plants in the Pacific Northwest.

Still, they are the standard setters in terms of the amount of electricity needed for a computing task. "The public thinks these massive data centers are energy bad guys," said Eric Masanet, the lead author of the study. "But those data centers are the most efficient in the world."

 

From The New York Times
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