How Green is my Google?

September 17, 2011

Back at the beginning of August, I wrote about some estimates of the number of servers that Google has, based on another set of estimates of the company’s electric power consumption.   Technology Review now has a report on some new data on power consumption released by Google.  Although the number of servers is not directly addressed, it makes for some interesting reading.

The figures for Google’s total electricity consumption are impressive, and slightly disturbing.

Google uses 260 million watts continuously across the globe, the company reported on Wednesday. This is equivalent to the power used by all the homes in Richmond, Virginia, or Irvine, California (around 200,000 homes), and roughly a quarter of the output of a standard nuclear power plant.

That’s a lot of light bulbs.

Google released the information in a post on the Official Google Blog on September 8.  Although it certainly uses a good deal of electricity, it claims that its data centers are much more energy efficient than is typical.  The Google Green site has more details to support this; interestingly, the data show that Google’s servers are slightly more efficient than average, but that the rest of Google’s  data center infrastructure (that is, the physical building) is much more efficient.  Other “high end” Internet companies, like Amazon or Facebook, probably also do a pretty good job; the Technology Review article cites Professor Jonathan Koomey of Stanford (who I mentioned in that August post), who says that Google’s use of custom building and cooling system designs help their relative efficiency.  I think this is very likely to be right; for the average business running a data center, I suspect there are few, if any, data center managers who really have a strong understanding of, say, HVAC system design and thermodynamics.

The article also makes the important point that, though data centers are large single users of electricity, most electricity use by, for example, network equipment, actually occurs in offices and homes.  The large numbers for companies like Google are attention-getting, but modest energy savings over millions of instances could have a very big impact.


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