Data centers- villain, victim, or savior?
We’re accustomed to hearing about the carbon emissions associated with data centers. They’re not so big in comparison with many other industries, but CO2 causes global warming. So data centers are villains in a way - or at least they can be if they don’t do their bit to reduce those emissions.
But a UK government report broadens this out, by looking at the consequences of global warming. Among other things, it looks at how data centers would suffer from the results of global warming.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is required to publish a regular report on the expected impact of anthropogenic climate change. The 2017 edition, ‘The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 Evidence Report’, came out in January, with no fanfare at all. DEFRA apparently knows the news is bad and would prefer if no one noticed.
Among other things, the report looks at how British infrastructure will be affected by the changing climate. And data centers are included in that infrastructure.
It’s good to see that the DEFRA report considers data centers are part of the UK’s essential services - the government clearly acknowledges that we depend on the cloud, and it should be included in any plans to deal with the effects of climate change, along with roads, airports and the power grid.
The effects of climate change aren’t great of course. While the UK is not a low-lying Pacific atoll, it’s still an island. Higher water levels and more extreme weather will have an impact. In the past, there have been UK data centers which suffered during floods. They may be more resilient now, but flooding could damage the pylons and masts which distribute power and networking to them.
High winds are also a possibility, with their own destructive results.
Higher summer temperatures could increase the cost of running cooling systems, as well as increasing the environmental impact of using them. If we also have times of drought, then water used in cooling systems could become scarce or expensive too, at a time when water may be needed for many other things.
Should data centers be accorded any special treatment in all this? Well maybe. Data analytics is often cited as a technique that could conceivably alleviate the problem by enabling efficiency, and reducing the overall emissions of society.
And if the worst happened, then cloud facilities based in data centers will be essential to coordinate the response, and also to enable people to carry on, as far as possible, with everyday life.
If you are stuck at home because of floods or extreme weather, at least access to cloud services running in data centers will enable you to continue doing your job.
Photo by: submer.com