Increasing energy awareness as it relates to the server farm can be a hard row to hoe.

A couple of issues ago, I pointed out all the Facebook default user settings that can generate e-mail. I wondered out loud about just how much energy it takes to notify User X that User Y had also commented on User Z’s status update. Or rather, how much energy it takes to do that, multiplied by 500 million users, multiplied for each type of action that triggers e-mail, multiplied by the total number of individual actions, times … uh, the number of days this has been going on plus one for every passing day.

Doesn’t it seem like just maybe, this is one area where simple passivity generates a tremendous amount of waste, tracing from our web devices through the distribution grid to data centers (and data center cooling systems) and back to energy and fuel sources?

Last month, our friendly neighborhood data center pro, Kevin Dickens of Jacobs Engineering, dropped me a note on the matter with an interesting anecdote.

Your “Editor’s Note” for March regarding data center energy needs and society’s disconnect was spot on. Regarding your Facebook question, I don’t know the energy cost, but two years ago, a Harvard physicist was likely “unfriended” by Google when he calculated that Googling just two times generated about the same CO2 as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea. (

And just to show you how naive society as a whole is when it comes to energy use and our technology-dependent reality, here’s a one for you to chew on. A business acquaintance of mine recently related how in the course of raising capital for a new data center project, he was actually confronted by one of the potential financiers.

As the prospective money man smugly pulled out his smart phone, he challenged my friend, stating, “Why should I bankroll a data center? I have everything I need right here in my hand.” Yeah, and the water at you kitchen sink comes from a magic spring in the cabinet and your toilet flushes into a black hole under the crawlspace. Ignorance truly is bliss.”

I have to admit, when I imagined my original scenario, I chalked it up more to convenient, easy thoughtlessness than to people thinking that web usage doesn’t count if it’s on your phone. After all, while the popcorn bag goes in the microwave and the kernels seem to come up with the brilliant idea to heat up and explode all by themselves, there’s actually stuff going on to make that happen that we can’t see.

And that’s a big part of the problem, isn’t it? We can’t see behind the curtain, and flat-rate internet or phone plans encourage us to ignore what data usage we can actually track. As both commercial and residential energy management has taught us, if you can manage to get the usage illustrated and in front of occupants, that by itself will affect usage.

Of course, much like utilities have a first-level incentive against people using a whole lot less electricity, popular websites have reasons for not embracing a little more patience and a little less immediate gratification to get the exact same information. They’ve priced the cost of their data center cooling into their budgets. We’re the only ones who pay more (in more ways than one) for the ever-increasing frequency of clicks stemming from “what am I missing?” internet OCD.


I hope you got to check out last month’s issue ofToday’s Boiler, which we produce as the official publication of the American Boiler Manufacturers Association (ABMA). In it, ABMA president Randy Rawson discussed the EPA’s just-released new MACT regulations affecting much of the boiler industry (and thus, many larger boiler users).

Well, Rawson subsequently notified us that one of those users - the United States Sugar Corp. - has filed suit to challenge the recent changes. What’s the end result for all involved? Too early to tell. In short, as Rawson noted, this just adds more uncertainty to the process (and probably extends the timeframe for removing that uncertainty). With even the EPA expected to issue some revisions separate from any litigation, expect more changes. We’ll keep you posted.ES