May 8, 2013
Everyone exaggerates. The big one that got away gets bigger with every telling. That one yard plunge you made for a touchdown in high school now stands at 50 yards, and getting longer, and of course you really did use to have a 30 inch waist. Hyperbole is not a bad thing. The advertising business is built upon it and so are most of our egos. Al Gore has made a career of it ($200 million at last count). In our everyday lives, we accept a certain amount of puffery surrounding most any assertion that we hear—let’s call it our personal plus or minus 10%—but sometimes we just have to jump in tell someone that “it’s time to pull in the reigns there cowboy”. I ran across just such a case the other day when I read someone describe data centers as “today’s steel mills”. While I agree that everyone has a right to use hyperbole to make a point, I think this guy’s abusing the privilege.
I must admit that when I first read the statement I thought, “How nice. This guy recognizes that just like the steel industry helped propel the economic growth of the country in the early 20th century, data centers are acting in a similar role here in the 21st”. Unfortunately, as I read on, I found out that he was just another disgruntled climate warrior who “likes” Greenpeace on Facebook while sending hate mail to Mark Zuckerberg to castigate him for his crimes against the planet. In other words—and I’m not being hyperbolic here—a real hypocrite. You would think that with all the mirrors in the world, this guy would have looked in one that worked.
Perhaps our friend didn’t get the memo that the rest of data center industry seems to have gotten about energy efficiency. Since we realize that energy efficient data centers bring real value to the bottom line, aren’t we all doing everything we can to improve the performance of our facilities? Certainly there are differences of opinion as to how to achieve our performance goals—one man’s methane based facility is another’s 200 acre solar array—but, in the end, we all are trying to achieve the highest level of efficient operation we can. By reinforcing their points in the most wildly exaggerated fashion possible, guys like our hyperbolic friend think that they are compelling our efficiency efforts. Of course, we all know that it’s our capitalistic desire for higher profits and abject fear of potential governmental oversight that is fueling our fire. Sometimes I wonder if these folks just have to be against something, and that if we told them we were against hunger and poverty they would say they are for it since it means using less fossil fuel. Really, there is just no pleasing some people.
Obviously, energy consumption by data centers is going to continue to grow. Many reports predict that 9-10% of the United State’s electrical grid’s capacity will be consumed by data centers by 2020. But as we continue to become an economy based on the rapid dissemination of information, this increase in power utilization is a necessary function of economic reality. While we certainly desire the most efficient growth possible, draconian actions like mandated levels of “alternative sources” of energy only serve to suppress growth. There can be no quid without the pro quo. Equating data centers with the smoke belching factories of 100 years ago is as hyperbolic as it is wrong. Certainly everyone has a right to their own opinion, and a little embellishment never hurts, but to paraphrase one of my favorite lines from This is Spinal Tap, “there’s a fine line between hyperbole and stupid”.