How will climate change affect tech?

05 November 2019

SERVER-FARM

 SERVER-FARM

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Question

Is there a plan to deal with the climate change impacts on tech stuff like server farms?

 

Answer

Tech-xpert Peter Cowley answered this one for us. First up, what's a server farm?

Peter Cowley - They're referring to the very many data centers around the world which are apparently about 7 million now. In the way that one has a single computer somewhere, they've been put together in larger and larger groups and this has been going on for many years. Once we moved away from the mainframe to a mini computer, to the P.C., the PCs were then stacked up in large volumes used by Facebook and Amazon Google and Microsoft etc. The sort of numbers involved most apparently about 2 percent of the global electricity usage is in server farms or data centers that work so there are only 10 countries that use more than this. The UK is number 11. So it's between UK and France, so this is 2 percent, so clearly it's a large usage and it's forecast to get up to 8 percent by 2030. This is all the photographs we upload on social media etc..

Chris Smith - I did read a statistic from Cisco who build all of the infrastructure that helps to run the Internet and they were suggesting that some enormous proportions like 80 percent or 90 percent of the traffic is video.

Peter Cowley - Yes, yes, exactly yes it's a huge amount of uploading YouTube videos, Netflix coming down, and all the other various TV streaming services.

Chris Smith - It does of course not include in the power calculation, I presume, when you're just looking at how much pollution is attached to the internet, you're not looking at the end user. So you're working out what the data center to have the servers whirring away is, but you're not looking at all the people who've got their computer on which is running at 300 or 400 watts of screen and base station and so on in all those houses, so there's a much bigger footprint.

Peter Cowley - And of course our mobile phones which need even though they're not actually taking anything from the mains, they are doing when they're being charged up. Then these data centers about half of what they use is for cooling. So effectively you're putting power in and it's obviously heating stuff up and it's got to cool it back down again. So what they're doing then is putting the data centers in places where they are cool so above the Arctic Circle etc. The disadvantage is that of course is you still got the heat generated and where's heat going to go? It's going to go into localized heating wherever it is which means we're going to start growing palm trees up in the north of Norway or something etc. So in the end you still got to remove that heat and the thing that is reducing that somewhat is more efficient processes, but of course there's a huge more and more demand and we're never going to catch up with that. I really don't know what we're going to do - put them in space!? But then you've still got to power them.

Chris Smith - I did suggest to a friend of mine who runs one of these companies that maybe he should relocate to a hospital, because the hospital I work in spends a fortune keeping the place very, very, warm for the elderly people and people who are unwell in the hospital and they're burning fossil fuels to do that. Hospitals often have big swimming pools, that they'd like to dump heat into to warm up, they have lots of empty buildings they'd like to heat up to make sure they're nice and warm for wards and things and they have uninterrupted power supplies. What's not to like? I think it's just a space issue but that might be one solution, Keziah?

Keziah Latham - Yeah and there are companies that produce a lot of heat in the processes they use that then use that heat to do things like growing indoor tomatoes so you could double up in terms of getting rid of that heat and produce something tasty as well.

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