What’s the real cost of positively, absolutely having to know right now?

I get paperless bills. Perhaps like you, I’m already paying bills online anyway. Save a few trees, it adds up, fantastic. But the other day, I’d just been reading an article about data center loads when I got an e-mail notification for the ES Facebook page, and it got me thinking (stop snickering) about social media and data center loads. Can we spend a couple of minutes contemplating a part of the load that HVAC winds up countering?


Facebook has a user base that is generally counted at 500 million, give or take several thousand. If you’re an average user who hasn’t bothered to change your default notification settings, then an e-mail is generated every single time that somebody:
  • Sends you a friend invitation;
  • Writes on your wall;
  • Posts a status update in a private group to which you subscribe;
  • Comments on a status update you made or on a photo you posted;
  • Comments on a friend’s status update or photo where you have already commented.

The e-mails generated from those last two really stack up when you consider updates where multiple people have commented. Given the above and Facebook’s claim that the average user generates 90 pieces of content each month, that’s a whole lot of notification - enough to make me wonder how many e-mails and how much data center capacity/energy would be saved if everyone, say, just turned off those notifications. At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, we would then find out who responded to what the next time we actually visited our Facebook pages.

I’m guessing we’re talking about enough energy to notice, but I’d love to get some feedback from some of you mission critical folks in a position to make an educated guess. The industry continues to make strides in terms of cooling data centers more efficiently, as we’ll explore next month. However, I’m reminded of Jim Rogers, the president and CEO of Duke Energy, who has been fond of citing efficiency as “the fifth fuel.” The most environmentally friendly data center, of course, is the one that doesn’t need to get built.

Meanwhile, that’s not the trend. A new $450 million Facebook data center in western North Carolina is scheduled for construction. Last month (January ‘11), the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is considering expansion of a data center in Oregon that already “covers an area equivalent to five football fields.”


Can you imagine if our only option for those notification was via USPS, like our bills used to be? Even with next-day service, people would see the pile of notices and opt out. But as Kevin Dickens wrote in a past article, it’s much easier for people to remain blissfully ignorant of the energy that goes into each refresh of a webpage. It’s an “invisible” load.

Now, when facility engineers can see and monitor system performance, they can make adjustments for the better. When you can put the energy consumption data in front of a building’s occupants, the result is generally a reduction in consumption. I hadn’t thought of it when I started this column, but imagine the effect of a popular desktop widget that conveyed (in layman’s terms) the full, real-time energy demand of everything that gets done on each of a few hundred million personal computers?

Drop me a note about that, or with a Facebook notification-related energy guess, or with any other consumption-related musings, atbeverlyr@bnpmedia.com.ES