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Greenpeace spies soot lining in cloud data centers

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Data centers have to be close to the population centers where they supply compute capacity, particularly for latency-sensitive workloads. AWS is in Virginia because that's the dead center of the Eastern seaboard of the United States, and it is close to Washington, DC. Cheap coal power is no doubt welcome, but it is a secondary issue that seems to have escaped Greenpeace.

Apple's existing data center in Newark, California, and the $1bn "iDataCenter" in Maiden, North Carolina, a 500,000 square feet behemoth, were tallied up. The Apple data center in Newark was pretty clean, with only 8 per cent of its juice coming from coal and 22 per cent from nuclear, but that Maiden data center is dirty, with 62 per cent of its 100 megawatts of juice expected to come from coal and 32 per cent from nuke plants.

Even Facebook's shiny new data center in Prineville, Oregon, which is completely cooled by outside air and which sports energy-efficient and open source server designs to go along with the open source data center specs, did not escape Greenpeace's marking pen. That Prineville data center will get about 63 per cent of its 40 megawatts from coal, about the same as a data center that Facebook is now building in Forest City North Carolina, which will get another 31 per cent from nuke plants. Across its five existing rented data centers and two self-built data centers, Facebook has a coal intensity of 52.8 per cent on the Greenpeace scale. (See if those updates to the Greenpeace Facebook page get updated in a timely fashion, eh?)

Google does a bit better, with a an aggregate of 34.7 per cent of its electricity for three operational data centers – in Dalles, Oregon; St Ghislain, Belgium; and Eemshaven, the Netherlands – and five others under construction. But the newer Google data centers are heavier on the dirty fuels, which is what has Greenpeace miffed. (See if those searches for Greenpeace International come to the top of the page, eh?)

Greenpeace did the math on five HP data centers – four in the States and one in the United Kingdom, which burned around 20 megawatts each – and gave them a 49.4 coal intensity rating because the centers are heavily depending on that sooty fuel to make their juice. Four of IBM's data center – a 60 megawatter in Colorado and a 30 megawatter in North Carolina plus one in Ireland and another in Singapore – came in at 51.6 coal-powered. Microsoft has a mix of data centers using lots of renewable and nuclear fuel and some that are heavy on the coal and nukes, and it averaged a 34.1 per cent coal intensity in the Greenpeace grading scale.

Yahoo! got the closest thing to good grades, with an 18.3 per cent coal intensity rating across six data centers. The 18 megawatt chicken coop in Lockport, New York, and the 7.2 megawatt one under construction in Quincy, Washington, helping raise its average, as did the existing 26 megawatt facility in Quincy. Yahoo! data centers in Virginia and Nebraska are near very dirty parts of the electric grid, which hurt its grade considerably. The 7.2 megawatt Yahoo! center in Avenches, Switzerland, will have 55 per cent of its juice coming from renewable energy and the local grid there gets about 40 per cent of its juice from nuke plants, so this center didn't hurt the grading for Yahoo! either. ®

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