What Our Compute Demand Looks Like

Facebook, Twitter, software as a service, cloud computing and countless web-based applications are all driving the demand for compute power and with it, the demand for…well, computers. The servers running our web applications, crunching numbers or serving up ads aren’t all in company-owned data centers — many are in co-location facilities, which have grown by 1.66 million square feet of floor space since 2008, an increase of 9 percent, according to a report out this morning from Telegeography research.

Building and operating a data center is a great proposition right now. Half of the co-location sites launched since the start of 2008 were more than 50 percent full by the middle of this year, despite the recession. London, San Francisco and Los Angeles reported fill rates of more than 80 percent, said Telegeography, a level of demand that isn’t expected to fall anytime soon, especially given the rush by many vendors to build out clouds.

Some companies build them in their own data centers but others host them in co-location facilities. Sun’s (s java) cloud is based in Switch Communications’ new facility in Las Vegas, for example.

But what’s worrisome about this demand is how it ties back to energy consumption. Demand for more space indicates that more computers need a home, but the industry is really good at cramming more performance into smaller machines and then stuffing the smaller servers into the same-sized space. It’s less good at making sure those more powerful machines consume an equal or smaller amount of energy, although strides are being made when it comes to improving energy efficiency in the data center (GigaOM Pro, subscription required). The rising demand for real estate for co-location space gives a general idea of how much more compute power we’re using (a lot more than the square feet indicate) and paints a scary future for the power consumption side of the equation.