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The NY Times is running a series about the physical structures that make up the cloud, and their impact on our environment. The yearlong examination by The New York Times has revealed that this foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.

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.

The first article was Power, Pollution and the Internet. The second article says Data Barns in a Farm Town, Gobbling Power and Flexing Muscle.

Microsoft’s operation in Quincy, Washington, has now spread to four buildings and is the largest of Quincy’s data centers. Taken together, Microsoft and Yahoo’s operations overwhelm all nonindustrial electric usage, utility figures show. All residential and small commercial accounts in Quincy consumed an average of 9.5 million watts last year, while Microsoft and Yahoo used 41.8 million watts, the utility said.

Microsoft’s Global Foundations Services Blog says the article doesn’t draw distinctions between modern, state-of-the-art data centers managed by global cloud service providers and smaller, older data centers managed by corporate IT departments.

“At Microsoft we are focused on both issues, and are working to provide efficiencies that were unheard of a few short years ago. We are on a journey where the innovation rate is staggering… One section of the article implies that Microsoft has run its diesel backup generators in excess of what is required to provide safe, reliable power to our data centers. We would respectfully disagree. Diesel generators are a costly alternative to grid-supplied power.”

Datacenter loads are likely to get higher. Music and video use has been a big factor in the growth of cloud services, but cellular basestations could be next.

Intel has been promoting the concept of removing basestation hardware from local cell facilities, running them remotely at data centers, using server farms.

Apple now is planning to build another data center in central Oregon. It will be the second large data center in Prineville, population 9,300. Facebook opened their data center in Prineville last year. Facebook is now building a matching facility next door.

Apple’s project in Prineville will use PacifiCorp for power, which uses a coal-fired power plant.

The Bonneville Power Administration is in the process of upgrading the power infrastructure in Crook County to handle Apple and other data centers, reports The Oregonian. But Apple has indicated it also plans a green energy project in Prineville.

Cheap power is the name of the game, since data centers use a huge amount of power. In North Carolina, Apple is building a co-located 4.8 megawatt biogas powered generator and a 20 megawatt solar array.

Quincy Washington, has become a magnet for data centers, with cheap, “green” hydro power from dams. Microsoft pays just 1.9 cents per kilowatt hour for its power in Quincy, compared to rates of 12 cents an hour in Silicon Valley and even higher in the New York market.

Related Dailywireless articles include; Green Power for Columbia River Data Centers, Intel: Basestation in the Cloud, Cloud: Key to Post PC, Seattle’s South Lake Union: Tech Hub, Apple Vs Amazon on Subscription Services, Mobile: Trillion Dollar Industry, Tower and Data Center Energy Efficiency

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