Data centers can be very expensive to run, especially because of their energy costs. The servers have to be powered, including additional servers that are available as backup at other hot sites. Since these servers use so much energy, it’s also necessary to have an additional system to cool them down, which adds even more power usage. Recently it has become popular for Internet users to question whether the websites they frequent are attempting to reduce their dependence on carbon sources. The Guardian reports the efforts of several major firms to improve their carbon footprint, including Google, Sun, and Microsoft. One interesting note that stands out; Microsoft’s researchers in Cambridge were switching to some systems used in older laptops, as they were originally designed for use with less efficient batteries and so use less energy.
Today Slashdot reported that the federal government was consolidating its 1100 datacenters. Vivek Kundra is giving the main reason for this change as reducing energy costs. There are other possible tradeoffs to note before an organization decides to make a decision like this. Data Center Knowledge, which is linked in the Slashdot article, goes into a lot more depth here. Reducing the number of data centers is possible mainly with the use of cloud computing. Kundra is quoted in the article that he is trying to use best practices from the private sector.
As I mentioned yesterday when talking about the effect of SEC climate change regulations, the public companies like Google, Sun, and Microsoft are frequently used as a benchmark for the federal government, as well as the states, counties, and cities. It is well known that many popular cloud systems are controlled by these three companies, and they are relied on heavily by workers at government and private employers, even in organizations that have their own communications systems. These companies already know how to set up a data center to reduce costs, although sourcing the data servers directly to companies could increase security risks. It would probably also mean a lot of job losses for the current federal IT staff, although whoever gets the new contracts would likely be hiring.
Vivek Kundra has brought up these issues in the past, especially the use of cloud computing and outside system design by well known tech firms to reduce government energy costs. Information Week reports that Kundra has already been in consultation with Google to design the new systems. Since Google is so widely used the government workers are familiar with its use as a research tool, although it is too risky to use a public search engine when working with classified documents. So Google is helping to design a new government cloud, and applying for the Federal Information Security Management Act accreditation. Since Microsoft and Sun also make many products that are widely used by government workers, it is likely that they will also provide customized systems that focus on server energy consumption and speed.
One recommendation that I would make is that geothermal power could be very useful for powering the data centers. Iceland has the benefit of having large amounts of volcanic power available, and its cold climate is also very useful for cooling down the servers. Not only that, the location would improve physical security, as it would be difficult for anyone to cross the ocean and blend into the smaller population undetected. Drawbacks are that this would affect latency, as a data center in Virginia would allow much faster communications, and it is risky to host federal information in another country.