AMD Study: Data Center Power Use Skyrocketing

To put it in perspective, unchecked global data center growth would translate to new energy needs approaching half the output expected from China's massive Three Gorges Dam at full capacity -- all just to power new servers coming online in the next three years.

The study, conducted for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD by Dr. Jonathan Koomey of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, tracks shifting patterns in data center energy use across five world regions: the United States, Western Europe, Japan, Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan) and the rest of the world.

Basing his report on regional server shipment data from research firm IDC, Koomey concludes that while data center growth in the U.S. and Western Europe will remain stable or even decline in terms of share of total world server electricity use, the Asia-Pacific region will increase its share from 10 percent in 2000 to 16 percent by 2010. Based on current growth trends, U.S. data centers, while increasing their overall power consumption without efficiency measures implemented, would nevertheless see their share of total world consumption drop from 40 percent in 2000 to about one-third by 2010.

But if a massive global spike in power consumption by servers is the worst-case scenario, Koomey believes it doesn't have to come to pass. He cited a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report that recommends a few simple efficiency measures such as increasing virtualization practices, using available power management features on servers and shoring up facility infrastructure to significantly reduce new power requirements in the years ahead.

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"The EPA came out with a report recently that says we could get a 20 percent savings in U.S. data centers if we do these relatively simple things. On a global level, that would be the equivalent of reducing the increasing demand from 10 new power supplies needed to half," Koomey said.

For Koomey, the prospect of increased energy efficiency in data centers in a newly industrialized region like the Asia-Pacific hinges on a shift in priorities and incentives at the institutional level, rather than just the availability of more efficient technology.

"We have the products [to run data centers more efficiently], but right now we have misplaced incentives, because you get the IT budget and the facility budget separate. So the IT folks have no incentive to spend an extra dollar on efficiency," Koomey said.

"But the good news is that data centers are a global industry. And the people running data centers in China or India are just as smart as the people in the U.S. So once there is mission critical information [on cost-saving energy efficient practices] available to them, you're going to see adoption all over the place because of the business drivers."

Koomey, who is also a consulting professor at Stanford University, said that despite the prospect of power usage by the IT sector rising beyond what better practices and technology can compensate for, an overall energy savings dividend is still within reach. That's because IT itself is not a one-way street that simply sucks up power. It also transfers efficiencies to the economies it serves, ultimately saving more energy than it consumes.

"There's direct power use, but there's also the effects of information technology on the rest of the economy. People are putting in these servers as fast as they can because the benefit to their business far exceeds the cost," Koomey said.

"The big picture is that they're getting massive value for this. Society as a whole is getting massive value from the data centers. The trick is, can you deliver that value with significantly decreased energy costs and monetary costs?"