A load of hot air

(Even more than usual from me, that is.)

When I read this article about a proposed data centre, I had mixed reactions.

The immediate ones were positive – well done, Ken and well done Telehouse for being sensible and having the foresight to realise what you could view as waste is actually a valuable resource, and so looking after the environment a bit better. (I know Ken’s not the mayor any more, but the rules were introduced when he was. 🙂 )

Then I was reminded of a friend who used to work for or do some consulting for British Sugar. They had a similar problem – their main activity (creating refined sugar etc.) produced lots of waste heat. They used this to heat greenhouses on site, and so grow tomatoes, which is a good bit of lateral thinking I think.

But then I compared the two sources of the waste heat – a factory and a data centre. How much has the UK moved away from its industrial past? The shift of the economy towards financial services has been highlighted by the recent stupid bankers saga – are we putting too many of our eggs in this basket? How much do we depend on the rest of the world (e.g. China) to do the unfashionable jobs i.e. make things? Do we realise the full social and environmental costs of this?

Also, it reminded me of the physical side of modern computing. We usually see our home PC as this shiny tidy portal into a huge amazing world of useful and/or fun stuff like online shopping, email, online banking, searching for and getting information quickly and easily. This is all true, but all this virtual-ness has physical underpinnings. The chips in all these computers were etched using nasty, nasty things like Hydrofluoric acid and contain arsenic and other unpleasant things. The big data centres run by the like of Google consume so much electricity they need to be built near power stations. When all these computers are got rid of (which, due to Moore’s law, is often fairly quickly) the cadmium, lead etc. put into them when they are made doesn’t always get disposed of safely.

I’m not saying all this to guilt anyone into not using their computer, just to bring in all the information when decisions are made. As I said, lots of hot air – time to put my brain to something more useful.