Data centers use 2% of U.S. energy, below forecast

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The amount of energy used by servers and data centers is increasing, but not as fast as the government once thought it would. The recession, as well as wider adoption of virtualization, has played a role in cutting energy demand.  

Jonathan Koomey, a consulting professor at Stanford University who has also advised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on tech’s energy use, released a report this month that updates an earlier EPA finding on energy consumption.

Five years ago, the EPA estimated that servers and data centers were using about 1.5% of all the power generated in the U.S.

At that time, the EPA believed that power consumption by servers and data centers were on track to nearly double by 2011.

But Koomey, who analyzed server shipments, reported that energy used by U.S. data centers had increased 36% over the last five years, much slower than originally anticipated.

“This slowing was the result of the 2008-9 economic crisis, the increased prevalence of virtualization in data centers, and the industry’s efforts to improve efficiency of these facilities since 2005,” wrote Koomey in his report.

Data centers now consume between 1.7% and 2.2% of the nation’s power.

The IDC data in the chart above, which show data shipments in the U.S., clearly illustrates the impact of the recession.

Koomey also looked at Google, which self-assembles its servers and are not included in IDC data.

Google doesn’t reveal the number of servers it has, but Koomey makes what he acknowledges are some guesses about its server count. Best estimate: Google’s server count grew from 25,000 in 2000 to 900,000 last year.

Although electricity use by data centers didn’t hit EPA’s forecast, an increase of more than a third over the last five years is not a small number.

Gartner recently estimated that it cost $1.6 million a year to power an 8,000-square-foot data center and those costs are rising 10% a year.

With more workloads shifting to energy efficient cloud data centers, who knows what the next five years will bring. More certain is that demand for new technologies to manage data center power consumption will continue to increase.  

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