Data centers are not the energy hogs anticipated

Thanks to the recession and energy efficiency technology, data centers consumed less electricity than expected between 2005 and 2010, according to a report by researcher Jonathan Koomey (see a post we published last week from Koomey on 4 reasons why cloud computing is efficient). While data center electricity consumption doubled between 2000 and 2005, the electricity consumption of data centers grew by just 56 percent globally between 2005 and 2010, and specifically grew by 36 percent in the U.S. over that time period.

The results are surprising because researchers, including the Environmental Protection Agency, had predicted that the electricity consumption of data centers would again double between 2005 and 2010, following the trend of the previous five years. But the doubling trend was cut short, partly because of proactive reasons by data center operators, and partly because of the overall macroeconomic downturn.

Koomey found that by 2007, data center operators were aggressively turning to virtualization and cloud computing, which uses software to leverage more computing space on less servers — reducing physical servers generally reduces the overall electricity consumption of the data center. Koomey found in a previous study that between 2000 to 2005 most of the electricity growth due to servers came from adding volumes of servers.

But between 2005 and 2010, growth in the electricity consumption per server was responsible for more of the overall electricity growth of data centers. In other words the overall growth in electricity for data centers was done in a more sustainable and smarter way.

Then there’s the less proactive reason for the less-than-expected growth: the recession. Companies installed fewer servers than expected quite simply because they felt the pinch of the downturn.

Regardless, the one-two punch means that the total electricity use by data centers in 2010 was just 1.3 percent of all electricity use for the world, and 2 percent of all electricity use for the U.S. Koomey also notes that due to Google’s (s GOOG) highly efficient data centers and servers, which it designs itself, Google’s energy consumption is only 0.01 percent of total worldwide electricity and less than 1 percent of worldwide data center electricity use in 2010.

Image courtesy of s_w_ellis.