How Data Centers Impact the Environment

2019-04-08  |  5 min read 

Now, more than ever, many of us are conscious of the impact we have on the environment. We try to minimize that impact by recycling, composting, and buying environmentally friendly products. But would you give up certain luxuries, such as your dependence on technology, to save the environment? Could you live without your cellphone or access to the internet?

The link between our insatiable demand for more and faster data and the impact on the environment is not inherently apparent to most people. The average person doesn’t realize what happens in the back end each time they search the web, instant message with friends, or send emails. Behind the scenes are the data centers, acting as the central nervous system of the internet, sending and receiving data to route and respond to requests. The amount of data generated is mind-boggling and continues to grow each year.

The IDC predicts that the global datasphere will grow from 33 zettabytes (ZB) in 2018 to 175 ZB by 2025. One ZB of data is a billion terabytes (TB), or 1021 bytes (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes). To put that into perspective, the IDC estimates that if you were able to store the entire Global Datasphere on

DVDs, then you would have a stack of DVDs that could get you to the moon 23 times or circle Earth 222 times. This much data means more and bigger data centers, all of which require enormous amounts of electricity to power full-time so that we can access the internet 24/7.

Huawei Technologies researcher Anders Andrae recently estimated that power usage by the Information and Communication Industry (ICT) could reach up to 5,860 terawatt hours (TWh) per year by 2025. Data centers will account for more than 30% of that usage. Put another way, at current growth rates, 2025 data centers are on track to use 8% of the world’s total power. Thankfully, large hyperscale data centers are moving to renewable energy sources to power their data centers. Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are leading the way to advance the movement toward an internet powered by 100% renewable energy.

Figure 1: Cumulative corporate renewable energy purchased in the U.S., Europe, and Mexico (Source: Google/Bloomberg New Energy Finance)

Some people might even argue that the digital data era helps to sustain the environment. For example, it enables us to communicate and work with one another remotely, reducing the need for transportation, and therefore lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The Internet of Things (IoT) promises many benefits to the environment; intelligent traffic systems will ease traffic congestion,  smart homes and smart buildings will monitor air quality and optimize energy management, and smart sensors in agriculture will reduce waste and improve energy efficiency in farming.

Although the demand for data and the energy consumption in data centers will continue to grow exponentially, preventative measures are underway by data center operators to minimize the impact on the environment. That is good news for those of us who want to continue to download our favorite movies or music and email or chat with friends. Learn more about Keysight’s vision to build a better planet by accelerating innovation to connect and secure the world and employing a global business framework of ethical, environmentally sustainable, and socially responsible operations.