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Cleaning out the links that have collected over the last few days before I head to the concert tonight (there are still plenty of tickets available at the door, all free, so I'd encourage you to come!):

Posted by Jake on 02/22/10 @ 05:03 PM
Posted in Geekdom, Interesting, Journalism, Local, Moronic, Randomness, Stupid, Video | 6 Comments | Permalink



6 Comments

Ric said on 02/24/10 @ 11:07 PM:
> ... the only way GreenPeace would be happy
> would be if Facebook ran the entire datacenter
> on Solar or Wind power -- which is obviously
> totally impractical.

Obviously? Really? There are challenges no doubt but that doesn't seem to prevent Google (and a few other big data center folks) from trying. An interesting, if a bit dated, news item related to this... http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2008/09/16/googles-take-on-green-data-center-energy/

Data centers are huge energy hogs. If we're going to make any progress in curbing the climate change threat, dealing with the data center problem has to be part of the solution.

The points raised by Greenpeace are worth taking seriously. And so is the defense from Facebook. The issue is complicated.

Building a data center that will consume power from a utility with an environmentally unfriendly mix is a problem. Pacific Power is supposedly planning to improve its environmental profile but it's always a little hard to tell how much of this is just greenwashing PR. Do the efficiency gains claimed by Facebook, which I gather largely come from the dry climate, offset this impact? Or is this also just more greenwashing? It's hard to say without real numbers.

Being a large customer, can Facebook try to use it's leverage to encourage the utility to more quickly move toward an increased renewable mix? Has Facebook considered purchasing carbon offsets to mitigate the environmental impact (I'm a bit ambivalent about offsets but it has some arguments in its favor).

Incidentally, I'm curious about the Akamai claim. A quick traceroute tells me that greenpeace.org is at AboveNet, not Akamai. Akamai is mostly known for its CDN service which I guess greenpeace.org might be using although I don't see any obvious evidence of this. In any case, even if true, this would of course be an ad hominum argument. For several different reasons, it's neither relevant nor important.

And finally, this last bit is just a pet peeve. Can someone at Facebook please talk to whomever wrote that press release and explain basic physics to them? Utility companies do not deliver "electrons" to you, they deliver "energy". You provide your own electrons.

Jake said on 02/25/10 @ 09:16 AM:
@Ric: Trying, yes. Succeeding? No. Certainly, they can supplement their power usage with solar and wind energy, but I just don't think a datacenter that size can survive on those alone, especially around here where there's not enough wind and solar just isn't efficient enough (as it stands) as they'd need a huge solar array. Technology's moving fast, and maybe in a few years that might not be the case, but I just don't see it right now for a datacenter this size.

I've seen smaller datacenters on WebHostingTalk.com that are running exclusively on solar and wind, but they're in places where the climates and conditions are better suited for that sort of thing. But they're not even remotely the size of this datacenter.

I would also argue that Greenpeace's claims have as much spin to them as Facebook's or Pacific Power's or anybody else. Don't get me wrong, Facebook should try their best to mitigate environmental impact, but Greenpeace probably has bigger fights they could be picking.

As for the Akamai claim, it was based on this, but like anything with IP addresses and network names and the way things route for load balancing and what not, that could be totally inaccurate.

Ric said on 02/26/10 @ 04:24 AM:
Perhaps you're right that this area is not well suited for a big wind or solar powered datacenter. I don't know. It's been awhile since I last did these types of numbers and the technology has been moving pretty fast. We actually have a fairly active local solar industry. I wonder if any of the local solar people who might be reading this blog would care to offer some input.

But, isn't this precisely Greenpeace's point? Does choosing to site this facility here require them to use dirty power? If so, did they have other less environmentally-unfriendly siting options? According to the Facebook physics-challenged press release, they chose this location because it was well suited to their efficiency designs. So again, we're back to the original question... do the efficiency gains counter the dirty power losses? Data centers have a obvious financial interest in reducing their power consumption so it's natural they would gravitate toward the high efficiency option, even if meant causing a greater environmental impact otherwise. So I'm not buying the efficiency argument unless I see some real numbers.

I have to admit that I like that we have Facebook coming to our neighborhood. But if Greenpeace is right about the environmental impact, then they might be perfectly in the right to push back.

I suppose Greenpeace might have bigger fights they could be picking... although a Facebook datacenter seems like a pretty big fight to me ;-)

Jake said on 02/26/10 @ 10:21 AM:
I suppose Greenpeace might have bigger fights they could be picking... although a Facebook datacenter seems like a pretty big fight to me ;-)
My guess is the damage done to the environment by this singular datacenter is far less than the damage done by thousands of other corporations out there. While yes, we don't have numbers to prove it, I still think that the efficiency gains by not having to have a 24/7 A/C system like most datacenters outweigh the environmental impact.

Ric said on 02/27/10 @ 05:07 AM:

Some more datapoints in case anyone is interested:

According to Wikipedia, PacifiCorp Energy generates about 77.5% of the power they deliver, with the remainder "purchased from other suppliers or under contracts". Of the self-generated amount, a whopping 91% is from coal and natural gas (the US total is about 70%). Natural gas produces about half the CO2 of coal so if we include only coal, about 64% of this power comes from the worst possible source in terms of it's effect on climate change (the US average is 49%).

In 2000, the total energy consumption of data centers in the US was about 0.6% of the US total consumption. This figure doubled by 2005. Assuming the rate of increase stayed about the same, data centers are now responsible for about 1.8% of the total energy consumption in the U.S. I've seen some figures that suggest that this rate has actually been increasing. Given these numbers, I'm not surprised that Greenpeace and others are trying to raise public awareness.

I haven't seen any estimates on how much power the Facebook center will consume but a typical large data center usage these days averages about 5 MW. I googled around a bit to get some feel for how this compares with existing renewable energy installations in our area. A caveat, it's unclear whether these installations are already online or just planned. The Bend Centennial Parking Plaza generates about 200 kW from solar panels on its roof. COCC generates about 62 kW from solar. Redmond airport generates about 57 kW from solar. Bend / La Pine School District generates about 40 kW from solar.

The most significant hurdle for on-site power generation in data centers seems to be the up-time requirement. It's apparently really hard to compete with the uptime guarantee you can get from utility power. This seems funny to me as one of the differences I noticed after moving to Bend is how flaky is my residential power service compared to what I was used to in San Diego. But maybe the big customers get better service :P

Another interesting link which shows how businesses like Intel, Kohls, Pepsi, Dell, and Cisco are doing right now to reduce their environmental footprint:
http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/toplists/top50.htm




Ric said on 02/28/10 @ 02:52 PM:

The Bulletin weighs in:

http://bendbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100225/BIZ0102/2250377

http://bendbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100226/OPIN01/2260381

The second is a commentary behind their pay wall :P

The first article quotes some different numbers for PacifiCorp's energy mix. So why do these numbers differ so much from my figures? A few different possibilities:

- My numbers were looking at just the self-generated portion while the Bulletin's numbers are supposedly for the total power mix.

- My numbers were based on the generating capacity which might not be the same as the actual power delivered. But my guess is that this would probably skew my numbers toward underreporting the coal portion as coal and natural gas plants can be run 24/7 at full capacity while hydro and renewables may fluctuate.

- My numbers include a larger "other" category than the Bulletin's which could hide some significant differences.

- And finally, neither Wikipedia nor the Bulletin cite sources so we could both be using bogus data. Even if we were to use PacifiCorp suppllied numbers, it's not clear if these self-reported numbers are independently verified.




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