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Summary:

A report from data center energy expert Jonathan Koomey, published on Monday morning, gave a rare glimpse into some educated estimates for how many servers and how much electricity Google uses, and how energy-efficient those custom servers are.

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A report from data center energy expert Jonathan Koomey, published on Monday morning, gave a rare glimpse into some educated estimates for how many servers and how much electricity Google uses, and how energy-efficient those custom servers are.

Koomey estimates Google had 900,000 servers in 2010, more than double the estimated amount it had in 2005 of 350,000. At the same time, Google used a total of 1.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2010, from its combined servers, storage, communications, and infrastructure, up from .7 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2005.

Google doesn’t commonly reveal the number of its servers or its total electricity use — for competitive reasons, it says — so the estimates are valuable figures to remember.

Koomey crunched the Google numbers because he was looking for the total amount of electricity consumption for data centers in 2010 and was using figures from IDC. However, because Google creates its own servers, its server numbers aren’t included in the IDC figures. So Koomey wanted to see how big of an omission it was to use the IDC figure and exclude Google. He based the estimates for Google on known electricity use he got from Google and data center floor space, as well as from media reports.

Data Center Panel: Christina Page, Yahoo, and Bill Weihl, Google at Green:Net 2011Yet despite that Google has so many servers, Koomey’s research helps to show how efficient Google’s custom-designed servers and data center designs are. According to Koomey, Google is responsible for less than 1 percent of the electricity used by the world’s data centers, but is responsible for 2.8 percent of the world’s volume of servers.

One aspect of Google’s server design is that each server uses an on-board, lead-acid battery to create a distributed backup power system. Usually, data centers use a centralized backup system — such as a room full of batteries, generators or flywheels — but Google found that having a backup power system for each server could lead to an energy-efficiency rating for the backup power supply system of over 99.9 percent. A lot of the efficiency has to do with the fact that the electricity doesn’t have to be converted between a central backup unit and the servers.

Google does lots of other energy-efficient things for its data centers, too: It attempts to eliminate chillers and cooling by using outside air when it’s available; it turns up the heat for its data centers to 80 degrees; and it installs all the low-hanging-fruit tech for data centers, like using hot and cold aisles. (More details on Google’s data center efficiency tech on GigaOM Pro, subscription required).

  1. Paul Lancaster Monday, August 1, 2011

    Salesforce makes Google look like bad when it comes to efficiency. 3,000 servers to run a billion dollar plus service? Amazing. 900,000 plus servers to run a 34 billion dollar business seems like a waste in comparison.

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    1. When did Salesforce become at all like Google – or vice-versa? My sense of being the world’s largest real-time or near-real-time search provider is vastly different than an SaaS provider to several thousand customers. If you can find data of any kind that suggests Google is terribly inefficient with whatever number of servers it has, I’d love to hear it. I suspect whether they have 100,000 or 900,000 servers, they’re very well used indeed.

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    2. You obviously know absolutely nothing about the complexity of software algorithms.

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  2. Paul Lancaster Monday, August 1, 2011

    I meant look bad – not look like bad. Fat finger…

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  3. @Paul Lancaster, Interesting point. But also Google’s core business is based on the speed of how fast it can deliver search results. So the companies have different requirements for their amount of servers.

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  4. J. Bruce Daley Monday, August 1, 2011

    It is an interesting fact that Google does not reveal how many servers it has or their total electrical use for competitive reasons at a time when most CIO’s do not have a very good sense of either number.

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  5. While the localized UPS strategy is interesting, the drawback is the heat. One more item producing heat (either through charging or discharging) in the datacenter is a headache someone has to manage

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  6. Interesting but not surprising, since the best minds are supposed to work for Google.

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  7. I hear google uses cheap servers that it builds in house and then trashes in the dumpster – they were accused of this years ago and still do it supposedly. This isn’t efficient now is it?

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  8. Tomorrow Knight Friday, August 5, 2011

    Great. I see that Google and Apple are really trying hard to “green” their operations more. This sort of thing can only have a positive impact on other companies moving forward. Bravo to Google!

    Sean
    SeeYourImpact.org

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