Google should come clean on datacentres

It's nice that Google says it has put an effort into making its datacentres more energy efficient, but the search giant's pledges won't mean much until it discloses just how many of the beasties it's actually running.

Google is boasting its data centres are more efficient than ever, but there's still a critical detail missing.

Google's Sergey Brin
(Credit: Google)

In a post on its official blog this week, Google has once again talked up the environmental efficiency of its datacentre initiatives.

According to Google, its data centres are so efficient that your own PC uses more power while waiting for a query result than it does in processing that query. "Google-designed datacentres use nearly five times less energy than conventional facilities to feed and cool the computers inside," Google operations VP Urs Holzle wrote. "Our engineers worked hard to optimise every element in the datacentre, from the chip to the cooling tower."

I don't want to suggest these aren't worthy things to be doing. But there's one piece of information that's still missing from this equation: just how many datacentres is Google running? Is this technology being deployed in a dozen locations? A hundred? A thousand?

Google isn't saying, in line with its long-standing policy that datacentre numbers are the kind of secret detail that don't need to be shared with shareholders, governments, energy providers or the general public.

I've whinged about it before, but the fact remains: this message would be a lot more effective if there were some hard numbers behind it, and it creates a dangerous precedent where corporations expect us to trust that they're doing the right thing for the environment without actually detailing the impact their operations have.

Like Google's similar plan to launch oceanic datacentres, the devil is in the detail.

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