by Mike Mulvihill
Photo by Laban West. Lightning over Muskogee Power Plant, Muskogee OK.
Last week the number of the week was 30,000 – that’s how many servers support Facebook’s operations. (No wonder, Facebook produces 25TB – yep, tera-bytes – of log data per day). The numbers comes from Jeff Rothschild, the vice president of technology at Facebook, who discussed the company’s infrastructure in a presentation last week at UC San Diego. BTW, this is a pretty rapid ramp up from the 10,000 servers Facebook has been claiming since April 2008.
At 30,000 servers, Facebook data operations now consume somewhere in the order of 3,800 MW of electricity, including cooling and power distribution costs, just so we can stay connected with our friends. (Since I don’t know exactly what servers Facebook has in use, this number could be slightly lower or a lot higher.) To put 3,800 MW in perspective, that’s about five power plants (big electric generation plants of 750 MW a piece). Not an insignificant footprint.
Social media is a great tool for spreading information and mobilizing people on lots of topics and issues. Here’s an issue to add to the pot – at what point does the fantastic rise of social networks create enough harm to offset the benefit?
In a world looking to reduce the impact of energy generation by using less energy, our social media jones is one of the drivers behind the doubling of servers in use in the U.S. (from 5.6 million in 2003 to 11.8 million in 2007). An individual data center consumes somewhere in the area of 5 MW of energy – the equivalent of 5 million houses of electricity. Some data centers consume as much as 30 MW. (I have even seen plans for a 50 MW data center that proudly points out that it would be a very green 50 MW data center.) In 2005, it is estimated that 1.2 percent of al U.S. electricity was consumed by servers, a 100 percent increase from 2000. IDC projects another 40 percent to 76 percent increase by next year, which would be about 2 percent of all electricity in 2010.
I’m not picking on Facebook or even social media, but the point is we all have behaviors that impact our environment, some are just more self evident than others. Plasma TVs that consume as much as 9 percent of a home’s power consumption mostly in standby mode. More and more devices consuming more and more energy – if we’re going to try to reduce the number of power plants needed to feed the beast (us), then we have got to change our ways. Change our behaviors. Do things differently. Energy efficiency – it’s great to talk about. But are we really having any impact or is all that talking just adding more servers to Facebook?