I’m going to guess that I’m not alone when I nonchalantly hit the “Archive” button instead of the “Delete” button to remove a good portion of my emails from my Inbox. Am I right?
I know, deep down within my being, that maybe that’s not the right course of action for the planet. I’ve heard that there are enormous Googleplexes in the middle of nowhere, secretly sucking up megatons of power. I understand that the “Archive” neverland is actually a real place on a hard drive somewhere within that Googleplex.
So this morning I set out on a (LONG) quest to find out how much energy it takes to store an email message. I must say, I searched and searched and did not find a solid answer.
I found an interesting article about Google storage in Harper’s, which states:
“Velcroed together, stacked in racks, and lined up in back-to-back rows, the servers require a half-watt in cooling for every watt they use in processing, and Google leads the field in squeezing more servers into less space. Based on a projected industry standard of 500 watts per square foot in 2011, the Dalles plant can be expected to demand about 103 megawatts of electricity—enough to power 82,000 homes, or a city the size of Tacoma, Washington.”
The article goes on to write about the Dalles Dam specifically, which utilizes power from a “clean” hydroelectric power plant that has obliterated salmon populations, beautiful waterfalls, and the area economy.
Which is when it dawned on me that of course there is more to this issue. Isn’t there always?
When we Archive an email, it gets stored on a hard drive somewhere. Not only are we utilizing the energy it takes to run the hard drive, we are also using the energy it took to mine the raw materials and manufacture that hard drive, the energy it took to ship that hard drive, the materials to create the place where that hard drive is housed, the energy used to keep that hard drive cool, the multiple cabling used to connect that hard drive to power and other equipment, the materials and energy it took to generate the power that drives it… and that’s just the part I thought up on the spot.
A simple email with text is very small, maybe a couple of kilobytes. But 10,000 very small emails become 20,000 kilobytes (20 megabytes). Google tells me I’m storing about 3 gigabytes of emails. Multiply that by the number of people who are storing a similar amount, and that number becomes pretty darn BIG!
Now include all the many photos we’ve all uploaded to Flickr, Picassa, WordPress, Blogger, Facebook, etc – each of which are between 100 kilobytes and several megabytes – and suddenly we have a whole lot of data being stored out there. With a lot of resources used to store it.
Google’s complex at The Dalles includes three 68,680 square foot data centers, an administration building, a dormitory, and an 18,000 square foot facility that houses its cooling towers. I don’t mean to pick on Google here, nor this particular site. Google has several such sites, but think about all the other companies that have them!
So whatever the number is for individual email storage seems like it doesn’t matter too terribly much. It’s small. Just as my vote in a national election is small. But they all add up, and together they make a large impact.
I’m going to go delete my unneeded emails now. And duplicate photos I don’t need (maybe some bad ones, too!). And I’ll start hitting that Delete button a whole lot more.