6 days to the collapse of world order. That is what would happen if datacenters stop functioning. Traffic lights, planes, trains, (food) supply chains and most of our communication devices would cease to serve us. No more binge watching, no more gaming, no more social media, no more life supporting systems in hospitals and forget about withdrawing cash or buying bread and milk. Artisanal fresh food would run out on day 6 and disorder and canned food would be humanity’s faith. Our lives depend on data.
On 16 December 2019, the amount of data processed through the Amsterdam International Internet Exchange reached 7 Tbps. That is 280,000 videos in 4k HD quality transmitted per second. 2019 set a new European record of 17% growth in total internet traffic volume to 16.92 Exabyte. 5 Exabyte equals all words ever spoken by human beings. Data grows exponentially.
Datacenters need energy to cool, so there is carbon emission from powering data centers (unless powered by renewable energy). Electricity consumption by data is estimated between 3-6% of global energy consumption, depending on what is in scope; datacenters, networks and devices (e.g.: servers, laptops or smart phones). PUE tells you something about a data center’s energy efficiency, but not about the energy source, renewable or polluting.
Even worse are the air-conditioning units in a data center that contain HFC (hydrofluorocarbons). HFC’s have 1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon. Data centers are giant fridges and refrigerants like HFC’s are the no.1 phenomenon most impacting climate change. Data causes climate change.
We have seen datacenters tested underwater, operated near the artic, cooled by liquids and AI applied to reduce a datacenter’s PUE. Data itself is used to avoid left-hand turns and create light-as-a-service at airports, all benefitting our climate. And Green Horizons, Environmental Insights Explorer and AI for Earth are all well-meant initiatives, but they are AI-based, which ironically consume even more energy. Training an AI-algorithm can take up to 284 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. It puts an alternate spin on ‘data is the new oil’ mantra.
Unlike eating meat or flying an airplane, it is hard to live without data. Even if you give up your laptop and smart phone, our lives are orchestrated by data. What now? Revert to pre-processor times? Limit global social media usage to half an hour per day? Stop 5G network roll out? I do not believe in retreating, nor in limitation strategies. I do believe in creativity and will power to figure this out. ‘Creativity’ and ‘will power’ are what define the IT-industry. Data and networks changed every industry on the planet for the better. The value creation is unprecedented. Proof of this is the top 5 companies ranked globally by market value are one petrol company and four IT companies. Data is a force of nature.
But with great force comes great responsibility. And this is absent. IT companies chase value at the expense of our environment. It is not their fault either, but investors who crack the whip when (double digit) growth numbers are lacking. IT thrived by growing existing – and birthing new industries, raising the tide of wealth for the whole world. If you as IT expert, IT employee or IT executive want to continue thriving, you need to put effort in climate care, with data as your weapon of choice.
Consider this not just a call to action, but a call to arms.