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Will Data Centers Exacerbate Our Droughts?

A data center can easily use up to 1.25 million gallons of water each day — and “More data centers are being built every day by some of America’s largest technology companies,” reports NBC News, “including Amazon, Microsoft and Google and used by millions of customers.”

Almost 40 percent of them are in the United States, and Amazon, Google and Microsoft account for more than half of the total. The U.S. also has at least 1,800 “colocation” data centers, warehouses filled with a variety of smaller companies’ server hardware that share the same cooling system, electricity and security, according to Data Center Map. They are typically smaller than hyperscale data centers but, research has shown, more resource intensive as they maintain a variety of computer systems operating at different levels of efficiency.

Many data center operators are drawn to water-starved regions in the West, in part due to the availability of solar and wind energy. Researchers at Virginia Tech estimate that one-fifth of data centers draw water from moderately to highly stressed watersheds, mostly in the Western United States, according to a paper published in April…

The growth in the industry shows no signs of slowing. The research company Gartner predicts that spending on global data center infrastructure will reach $200 billion this year, an increase of 6 percent from 2020, followed by 3-4 percent annually over the next three years. This growth comes at a time of record temperatures and drought in the United States, particularly in the West. “The typical data center uses about 3-5 million gallons of water per day — the same amount of water as a city of 30,000-50,000 people,” said Venkatesh Uddameri, professor and director of the Water Resources Center at Texas Tech University. Although these data centers have become much more energy and water efficient over the last decade, and don’t use as much water as other industries such as agriculture, this level of water use can still create potential competition with local communities over the water supply in areas where water is scarce, he added…

Sergio Loureiro, vice president of core operations for Microsoft, said that the company has pledged to be “water positive” by 2030, which means it plans to replenish more water than it consumes globally. This includes reducing the company’s water use and investing in community replenishment and conservation projects near where it builds facilities.

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.


Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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