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Fill Me Up

Did you ever notice that “hot” topics in the data center business seem to run in cycles? You know what I mean. Everywhere you look, you’re reading or hearing about the same thing, DCIM for example, until we all get sick of it and move onto something else. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about water consumption in data centers. No one seems to have staked out a strong position on the subject pro or con, but there is a general consensus that they use a heck of a lot of it, and I concur. My problem isn’t with the conclusion, but the perspective. If you’re like me, you see water usage defined using illustrative terminology like the following: “It takes 7.6 liters of water to produce 1Kwhr of electricity”. While I’m sure a number of you reading this are nodding your heads and saying, “Yep, that sounds about right”; the rest of us see this as part of some perverse story problem, “Let me see, there are 3.78 liters to a gallon and a kilowatt hour is, c’mon I used to know this…” Not a pretty sight. Wouldn’t it be easier if they just used terminology and examples we can all understand? Of course it would, and that’s why I’ve put together these simple real world comparisons to help all of us grasp the concept of data center water usage—and best of all, you don’t have to show all your work.

To put things in perspective, let’s use a 1MW data center as our base unit. It’s small enough to put everyone at ease, and simple to extrapolate. A 1MW data center uses 17 million gallons of water annually. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Man, that’s a lot of water”, and you’d be right. But, the beauty of using real world comparisons enables you to express this volume in terms even the marketing guy in the next cube can understand, so let’s begin:

17 million gallons of water is enough to fill two killer whale tanks. Now due to some people’s parochial views about the treatment of these big guys, said tanks no longer contain the aforementioned whales. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to SeaWorld, but I’m sure they’ve found some other aquatic mammal to fill the void. 17 million gallons is going to provide room for a large number of dolphins for example, and who doesn’t love them?

For the more automotively inclined participant, our 1MW facility’s water requirements are enough to wash over 560,000 cars. Full size, not any of those deathtraps on wheels like Smart cars or Mini-Coopers.

Since we are in the midst of the Olympics, some of you may be interested to note that 17 million gallons of water will fill 26 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Let’s see Michael Phelps swim all those.

For the more hygienically minded among us, 1.7 million people could take a shower with that same amount of water. An interesting factoid for that special “someone” who views bathing as an optional exercise.

And finally, our data center’s water supply would quench the thirst of the entire population of Toledo for a year—a little known fact that the bottled water people don’t want you to know.

By any measurement, data center’s use quite a bit of water. Since it appears that you’re going to be reading a number of articles reiterating that fact over the next few months, isn’t it nice to have an easy way of putting the figures that will be quoted in a relatable context? I know that I sure feel better. So let’s enjoy this new found understanding until we reach the point that we wish people would start writing and talking about DCIM again.