The Wizard of Oz said, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” but I always like to explore what’s going on behind the scenes.
Being online all the time, I was intrigued by two stories in the New York Times about the cost of meeting all of our digital needs. The first story, “Power, Pollution and the Internet,” said:
“Stupendous amounts of data are set in motion each day as, with an innocuous click or tap, people download movies on iTunes, check credit card balances through Visa’s Web site, send Yahoo e-mail with files attached, buy products on Amazon, post on Twitter or read newspapers online. “
It went on to say:
“Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found.”
The second story in the series is called “Data Barns in a Farm Town, Gobbling Power and Flexing Muscle.”
Plenty of people beg to differ with the newspaper’s conclusions. New York Magazine mentions several of the techies who are saying how over-simplified and wrong the New York Times is. InformationWeek’s reaction is here, and the Times itself has a debate page here. Take a look and see what you think.
Meanwhile, I’m going to take a look for a 1970s Polaroid of my software-programmer father standing in front of a wall-sized computer. I remember how uncomfortable it was to visit his office, which was always freezing thanks to the industrial-strength air conditioning needed to keep his HAL 9000 from overheating. The description in the Times of a server farm being cooled made me think of that. How strange is it that, after computers have shrunk to fit in our pockets, a supersize version of my dad’s old office might lurk behind the curtain?