My 7/05/09 Missoulian column
The infrastructure of the Internet – rather than a single home or office PC – provides most of the power and data storage behind cloud computing.
In addition to the Net’s connective backbone, cloud computing relies on data centers housing thousands of PCs scattered around the world, where cheap electricity and Internet connectivity (and, in some cases, tax incentives to build) are available.
These data centers allow Google to perform searches in a fraction of a second, stream millions of YouTube videos and provide other services so users can work in the “cloud,” where their files are available anywhere at any time. But there are costs involved.
There’s a saying that whenever someone searches for pictures of Brittany Spears, Google kills a salmon.
It refers to the company’s new data center on the Columbia River in The Dalles, Ore., located there for the availability of cheap hydroelectricity. The center is the size of two football fields, and when it’s up and running, it will use more than twice the amount of power Missoula uses in a year. That’s not conducive to good salmon runs.
Google is not alone in the area: Microsoft and Yahoo are building big data centers upriver in Wenatchee and Quincy, Wash., 130 miles to the north.
Data centers have gone “green” in some respects, in an attempt to appeal to consumers and the bottom line. Google has Web pages dedicated to efficient computing where the company outlines its five-step “green” plan and writes that its data centers are among the most efficient in the world.
The Internet is a resource – just like trees, air and water – and although the Internet is mostly out of sight, it has serious costs that have to be weighed against the benefits it provides. In the end, freely available cloud computing resources are not truly free.
One thing is for sure: Data centers are here to stay, and hopefully they will continue to improve in design and efficiency.