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New York Times article on data center power consumption draws ire

SearchDataCenter.com staff

In a recent series entitled The Cloud Factories from The New York Times, the first installment by James Glanz depicts data centers as energy-guzzling, waste-producing behemoths, which drew the ire of many professionals in the field.

In his piece

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that ran with the online headline “Power, Pollution, and the Internet,” Glanz wrote “Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found.”

Critics of the piece responded in colorful fashion from all quarters:

From Forbes, Why The New York Times Story 'Power, Pollution and the Internet' is a Sloppy Failure, Dan Woods calls out several “distortions” in the Times’ article and includes several points to buttress his argument. Woods writes the utilization rates for servers can’t be known since large companies like Facebook and Google don’t share those numbers. Additionally, “[a]lthough the article mentions virtualization and the cloud as possible solutions to improve power utilization, VMware is not mentioned. If the reporter talked to VMware or visited their web site, he would have found massive amounts of material that documents how thousands of data centers are using virtualization to increase server utilization,” Woods wrote.

From Pando Daily, A Lot of Lead Bullets: A Blistering Response to the NYT on Data Center Efficiency, Diego Doval penned a lengthy response to Glanz’ article which brings up a point many have made: Unless you are an IT professional working in a data center, you’re not going to get an accurate portrayal of the industry. “The assertions made in [the Times’ article] essentially paint our engineers and operations people as a bunch of idiots who are putting together rows and rows of boxes on data centers and not caring what this costs to their businesses, nay, to the planet. And nothing could be further from the truth,” Doval wrote.

From GigaOM, NYT’s data center power reports like taking a time machine back to 2006, Katie Fehrenbacher acknowledges the Times’ article got “a couple things really right” but takes issue with lack of detail on the strides made within the last few years to increase data center energy efficiency. “The data center operators at the largest Internet companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo and eBay are so focused on energy efficiency of their newest data centers that new designs are starting to be widely adopted with technologies like open air cooling (getting rid of the huge air conditioning units in these things). New types of low power chips and servers are being developed by startups like SeaMicro, which was recently bought by AMD. The articles so far don’t mention these innovations,” Fehrenbacher wrote.

From The Verge, 30 billion watts and rising: balancing the internet's energy and infrastructure needs, Tim Carmody notes that Glanz specifically swipes at industry heavyweights like Google, Amazon and Facebook for their wasteful ways and for attempting to depict themselves as environmentally friendly. Carmody argues that our lives are enmeshed with the digital world and the article “focuses on frivolous media and entertainment, or ‘fantasy points and league rankings, snapshots from nearly forgotten vacations kept forever in storage devices.’ It doesn't really grapple with the cloud as an increasingly-essential element of infrastructure, powering industry, government, finance, and commerce, as well as personal communication and data storage.”