War for the Web
02 02.12

Today’s special: Data Centers!

All that pesky information that lives on the Internet has to be stored somewhere. Data centers are the answer!

Data centers are typically huge collections of servers and ethernet cable that store information, and allow you to access it remotely via the Internet. Most major companies either have their own, or buy space from people who host content like Akamai, Amazon (which got into the server/data center business pretty wholesale) and others like them.

Companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple typically have their own data centers. It’s like owning your office building instead of leasing it, because they own it they can experiment with ways to reduce the costs or operating it, as opposed to paying someone else to run it at a fixed cost.

And make no mistake, the cost of running these data centers is huge. The majority of the cost comes from the need to cool these massive server farms. The new Facebook data center in Oregon uses as much power as the entire rest of the county that it is in. A similar Google data center in The Dalles, Oregon was reputed to use as much energy per 500 square feet as a city of over 80,000 households. That’s pretty intense.

Because of this, these companies are always experimenting with new ways to cool their equipment. Google recently purchased an old paper mill in Finland to use as a data center, and they are planning to use water from the Fjord it neighbors to cool the data center. Facebook has also built a server farm north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden. This will help them use the area’s cold temperature to cool the servers. It’s a pretty cool idea.

The upshot of this is that the Internet is expensive. Despite the idea that everything we use on the web is free, it is incredibly to run and maintain. The costs to run these data centers is huge. Sending an email on Gmail is in some ways just as energy and resource intensive as sending a letter by postal service.

Here are some really cool pictures of the Google data center in The Dalles, Oregon.

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