Data Centers are Huge Water Users

Growing Blue

Growing Reliance on Electronic Data Means Growing Demand for Water

In today’s technology-focused society, we are using substantial amounts of water to manage the large facilities that house computer data systems, or data centers. It may seem counterintuitive that computers depend on water, but water is often used to cool these systems, which produce great amounts of heat. These centers all use great amounts of energy, and generating energy also uses water, so there is an indirect aspect of water consumption as well.

Given the increasing population relying on the Internet, the United States’ computer-related water needs will continue to grow. By some estimates, more than 77 percent of the U.S. population used the Internet in 2010, representing more than a 150 percent increase over the past decade. And all of this internet traffic and reliance on electronic information means increased demand for more data centers. Consider that each email, each bank transaction, each Facebook posting, and the millions of other internet uses all must pass through and be processed in data center servers.

The nation’s skyrocketing dependence on computers has required larger and larger data centers that house servers and other equipment, in turn requiring more and more water to cool them. Within high-density cloud computing server farms, for example, heat from hundreds of thousands of servers is removed through evaporation within large cooling towers. An Amazon.com data center manager has estimated that a 15-megawatt data center can use up to 360,000 gallons of water a day.

In light of this increasing need, water management is now surfacing as a priority among data center managers, with companies such as Google and Microsoft developing new solutions to use water more efficiently. Two examples include:

  • Using cooling systems that are designed to use lower amounts of water, an approach being used at a large data center in Las Vegas
  • Developing systems that run on recycled water as well as water from nearby rivers and canals, putting to use water that otherwise would have been undrinkable while also avoiding the need to use drinking water supplies to cool computer systems
  • Cooling systems that do not even use water

Solutions such as these that reduce the impact of our technology habits’ effects on water consumption will only become more important as technology continues to evolve and society becomes even more dependent on computers.

Read more:
Data Centers Move to Cut Water Waste