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Cyberspace’s Ecological Impact

Electricity consumption in data centers worldwide doubled between 2000 and 2005, but the pace of growth slowed between 2005 and 2010. This slowdown was the result of the 2008 economic crisis, the increasing use of virtualization in datacenters, and the industry's efforts to improve energy efficiency. However, the electricity consumed by datacenters globally in 2010 amounted to 1.3% of the world electricity use. Power consumption is now a major concern in the design and implementation of modern infrastructures because energy-related costs have become an important component of the total cost of ownership of this class of systems.

Thus, energy management is now a central issue for servers and datacenter operations, focusing on reducing all energy-related costs, such as investment, operating expenses and environmental impacts. The improvement of energy efficiency is a major problem in cloud computing because it has been calculated that the cost of powering and cooling a datacenter accounts for 53% of its total operational expenditure. But the pressure to provide services without any failure leads to a continued scaling systems for all levels of the power hierarchy, from the primary feed sources to the support. In order to cover the worst-case situations, it is normal to over-provision Power Distribution Units (PDUs), Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) units, etc. For example, it has been estimated that power over-provisioning in Google data centers is about 40%.

Cyberspace

Furthermore, in an attempt to ensure the redundancy of power systems, banks of diesel generators are kept running permanently to ensure that the system does not fail even the moments that these support systems would take to boot up. These giant generators work continuously to ensure high availability in the event of a failure of any critical system, emitting large quantities of diesel exhaust, i.e., pollution. Thus, it is estimated that only about 9% of the energy consumed by datacenters is in fact used in computing operations, everything else is basically wasted to keep the servers ready to respond to any unforeseen power failure.

When we connect to the Internet, cyberspace can resemble a lot to outer space in the sense that it seems infinite and ethereal; the information is just out there. But if we think about the energy of the real world and the physical space occupied by the Internet, we will begin to understand that things are not so simple. Cyberspace has indeed real expression in the physical space, and the longer it takes to change our behavior in relation to the Internet, in order to clearly see its physical characteristics, the closer we will be to enter a path of destruction of our planet.

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