Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Energy Use at Google


      Google is a multibillion-dollar internet service that requires infrastructure of servers and fiber optic cables to support the Google users with over 3 billion searches each day, offer free email to 425 million Gmail users, and provide millions of Youtube videos. Urs Hölzle was brought on to Google in 1999 when Google still was renting space like other internet companies like eBay. He was brought on to upgrade the system to bring the search time down and to keep the system from the frequent crashes that it encountered on Mondays. Hölzle designed a data facility that seemed to be radically ahead of its time. At the time, data facilities used tremendous amounts of air conditioning units to cool the servers, commonly called CRACs. However, Hölzle was able to design a system that used water coils that drew the heat away from the servers and cooled the water and then cycled back to continually keep the servers cool, without needing CRACs. According to Levy, data centers use up to 1.5% of the world’s total electricity, and this movement took Google completely out of the equation. As for water consumption, in Belgium Google uses recycled industrial canal water and in Finland Google uses seawater. Google is constantly looking into what they can do to make their systems, networks, and cloud systems, everything they can do better for the users in the future.
Reducing electricity needs in the infrastructure seems like a major step for Google, and indeed it is. Duncan Clark of the Guardian reports that Google’s carbon footprint is similar to the UN’s, at about 1.5m tonnes. But as the previous article notes, the data centers consume much less energy, 50% less energy than industry averages. The cloud services are very helpful to Google and are used for services such as Gmail. Google’s share of a Google search is .2g of CO2 per search, however other factors add to that, such as the other end of the search, the person searching and their computer habits. The company is attempting to offset its carbon footprint with renewable energy and as of September 2011, about 1/3 of its electricity was coming from renewables.

Google appears to make going green or becoming more sustainable from a computing end look fairly easy and cheap, at least from what I have seen from other industries, and I think it’s wonderful. With cloud computing, I do not understand why more companies like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Microsoft, Apple, etc. are not using these available services to decrease not only their costs, but their carbon footprint, their impact on the environment, and improve their public environmental image. I have always seen Google as a bit more of a benevolent all-knowing company when compared to the other all-knowing companies like Microsoft and Apple, and these articles cements this concept for me. I have learned through readings in other classes that Bill Gates has supported GMOs, which from my research are not sustainable or environmentally friendly, which makes me dislike Microsoft in general. From a computer scientist’s (my fiancé) point of view, Apple is overpriced unless you are heavily into media, and even then, you have to buy the media programs separately.

Question: Why are consumers not pressuring public media companies and other computer companies to use Google as a model and become more green and sustainable while saving money and using cloud services?
--Alex Lupton

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