Just how green is the Internet? Going virtual has the potential to save significant amounts of energy, with a recent study predicting that Internet services could reduce carbon emissions by staggering 1 billion tons.
But look beyond the green hype, and the web has a dark secret – at the other end of your Internet cable, humming away, and hidden from sight, are thousands of energy hungry datacenters, running 24/7 and estimated to be using energy equivalent to all of the color televisions in the US. Worldwide datacenter energy usage has doubled since 2001 and is set to double again by 2011.
Google is today’s biggest datacenter operator, having more than twice the server capacity of any other firm in the world, but this could be set to change. The proposed merger of Microsoft and Yahoo would create a rival Internet giant with similarly huge capacity, creating new competition at many different levels.
The start of green competition?
Aware of their environmental footprint, Google launched a massive renewable energy investment program last year, making Google one of the most eco-friendly destinations on the web. So how green is Micro-Yahoo-Soft in comparison? Could the new web giants start competing not only for web users, but also for carbon credits? And how might these champions of technological innovation shape the future of green computing?
Both Google and Microsoft have large solar power installations. Producing enough electricity to power 1,000 homes each, these installations provide a significant amount of the power used by their respective research and development campuses.
New datacenters will be opened by Yahoo and Microsoft later this year. By using wind and hydro-electric energy supplies, these new facilities will be fully carbon neutral, with emissions from Yahoo’s older centers being offset through carbon trading schemes.
Google’s 25 datacenters around the world are powered by conventional electricity supplies, although like Yahoo, Google offset these emissions making them effectively carbon neutral. Google are also working on a secret and extremely powerful mega-datacenter, also to be powered by carbon free hydro-electric energy. To reduce their dependence on carbon offsets in the future Google is actively developing new zero carbon technology through its RE<C program.
In comparison to a standard datacenter, Google’s can deliver the same computer power using half the energy through the use of innovative power supplies and evaporative cooling technology. Google plan to share these developments with other firms through the Climate Savers Computing initiative launched jointly with Microsoft last year.
At the same time, Microsoft has been doing its part to reduce amps in the datacenter. New technologies such as virtualization and improved system power management have been developed within Microsoft’s latest server operating systems – improvements which not only reduce Microsoft’s own impacts, but those of its customers around the world. Disappointingly, Yahoo is less active in this area and do not claim any specific efficiency achievements.
Employing well over 100,000 people between them, these high-tech firms have high-tech buildings to ensure that their vast amounts of office space has a minimal impact on the environment.
All of the latest eco-buzzwords can be found in Microsoft, Yahoo and Google building descriptions: high-efficiency lighting, optimized use of natural light, advanced building temperature control systems, rainwater recycling, advanced insulation technologies, extensive use of sustainable materials, and and and…
Future green research
In addition to its RE<C program, Google is also making a number of additional investments in smaller firms to support clean energy research. With less cash to throw around, Yahoo is again in third place, although Microsoft has pledged over half a billion dollars towards the development of clean energy technology in the coming years.
So who’s the winner?
Ultimately, we are all likely to be winners. Google is the boldest player, underlining its status as an innovator by stating ambitious goals for eco technology development. Microsoft and Yahoo also have thoroughly green credentials, although Yahoo misses out on the really big investments due to its smaller size.
However, a Microsoft / Yahoo merger provides a significant opportunity – the creation of an on-line giant to rival Google, underpinned by Microsoft’s vast financial resources has the potential to create real competition. Competition not only to provide the best Internet search and on-line applications, but to also provide the greenest destinations on the Net, and to develop the technology that can make the whole web truly green.