back to article If Google kills penguins, is it doing evil?

Killing penguins might be evil. I'm not 100 per cent sure. I've never thrown one to a killer whale and then decided how I felt about it. Google might want to buy some penguins and start chucking. The company needs to confront how it feels about penguin murder. And you need to decide if Google should keep you up-to-date on its …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google's WANG is smaller than you think.

    Google once said they had 10,000 servers.

    Now *third parties* suggest they have 200,000 - 500,000 servers, because they're bigger now and the hype has increased accordingly.

    Google does not disclose how many servers it has, I think it is because it would be a huge disappointment.

    They serve say 300 million queries a day. And say 2-5 billion adverts. So lets say 5 billion impressions a day. Thats less than 60,000 a seconds. If say each server can deliver 10 a second (in reality its 100-500), then thats 6000 server on general load.

    A quick sanity check, say 30 data centres take the bulk of the load, that would be 200 servers per data centre or say 20 racks. About a floors worth of servers, which is what their NY center is, one floors worth of servers.

    That number already has a 10-1 safety factor built into it.

    Basically servers got a lot faster, and the exaggerated numbers got a lot bigger. I would put their servers at less than 10,000 now.

  2. Kevin Hall

    Hidden pollution?

    Interesting article, it's amazing when you think that just by searching Google you're contributing to pollution. 5000 megawatts is more than the output of Drax power station, which supplies about 5% of the UKs electricity. To put it another way, it's Europe's second largest coal fired station, one of the most efficient and cleanest, yet can still chew its way through 36,000 tonnes of coal a day and pumps out nearly 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. In other words, the poorest 103 nations in the world, *combined*, consume and pollute less than Google. It's a frightening statistic when you think what Google is doing is hardly essential to the survival of mankind and in some respects is on the absolute periphery, if you think the biggest searches on Google for 2006 were Bebo and Myspace...

  3. Alex Schlup

    Meaningless stats

    We all agree with the principles of corporate transparency and social responsibility, but what on the warming Earth does this paragraph mean :

    "The ad broker builds a ton of data centers – some of the biggest data centers in the world. According to a recent study, the power needed to run and cool all of the data centers in the US equals the amount of energy needed to keep our color televisions glowing. It takes about five 1000MW power plants to fuel those servers here and 14 similar plans to power servers worldwide."

    Is that all of Google's data centers in the US or all data centers full stop? Whose color televisions? Whose servers does it take five 1000MW power plants to run? Does "here" mean the US and is the power consumption just for the US servers or does that cover the 14 similar plants, whoever they belong to and wherever they are?

    A bit less wishy washiness would be nice.

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Outright Stupid

    Google -> Data Centres -> Power -> Global Warming -> Penguins !

    Thats is the *stupidest* analogy I've ever come accross.

  6. Peter Burgess

    It depends

    Analysis of just part of anything gets weird answers ... so Google datacentres consume a lot of energy, but relative to the amount of information that they help distribute it is perhaps tiny. The article does not address the broader systemic issue.

    And with regard to the role of influence in getting favorable legislation ... again this can be very positive or absolutely corrupt. It depends. On balance it tends to create damaging economic distortion.

  7. Tony

    What an attitude!

    Good grief Ashlee, did someone from Google piss in your Cheerios?

  8. regadpellagru

    Google's exec taking the piss

    "We're in a highly competitive industry and, frankly, one or two little pieces of information like that in the hands of our competitors can do us considerable damage. So we can't discuss it."

    As (and even more than) you stated, Ashley, pls someone

    knocks this moron's head into the wall for the cubic meters

    of p**s he's pouring onto us !

    How on earth can one disclose anything out of a datacenter,

    from power and water usage ? It is easy to have the same

    power/water footprint and be anywhere on a 1-10 scale of

    processing power, thus, good luck for getting the secret

    algorithms of Google, even if you forget they are in each of

    the boxes they sell, and thus open to reverse-engineering !

  9. Paul Anderson


    I'm with Alex Schlup - maybe a bootnote would help.

    As for Nanuk's comment, this wasn't really worth making without qualifying the criticism with something specific.

  10. James Pickett


    Hmm - out by several orders of magnitude, I fear. What is it with journalists and statistics?

    "It takes about five 1000MW power plants to fuel those servers here and 14 similar plan[t]s to power servers worldwide."

    I make that 19 Gigawatts, and if each server consumes 190W (to keep the maths simple - I'm being pessimistic, my PC and 3D graphics card consumes a mere 70W) you get 100 million servers, or maybe 90 million if you allow for the coffee machines. You certainly won't need a lot for heating...

  11. Peter Burgess

    It depends

    Analysis of just part of anything gets weird answers ... so Google datacentres consume a lot of energy, but relative to the amount of information that they help distribute it is perhaps tiny. The article does not address the broader systemic issue.

    And with regard to the role of influence in getting favorable legislation ... again this can be very positive or absolutely corrupt. It depends. On balance it tends to create damaging economic distortion.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google probably saves more power than it expends

    What uses more energy? A person visiting a dozen shops in the vague hope that one of them might sell what he wants, or a person who narrows down the choice by doing a google search and only visiting the shops that say they sell the product?

    OK, we're not quite there yet. Far too many laxadaisical web sites like B&Q, homebase and tesco, where the web site has very little resemblance to what's actually in the shops -- and google can't properly index what's in the shops if the shops themselves haven't got half their products on the web site. And far too many sites which, even if they say what they sell, fail to say what it costs so you still have to drive round the stores aimlessly to decide what to buy and where. But there are one or two properly-functional web sites -- like Argos, which not only tells you about *every* product in the store, but will also confirm whether your *local* shop has it -- and let you reserve it to be sure it is still there when you arrive.

    If every store had a web site like the Argos one, google could do a much better job of cutting down the number of stores you have to visit and would therefore save even more power.

  13. M. Poolman

    You're 'aving a laugh

    5000MW ! You're 'aving a laugh - that's nearly enough to power London.

    Where have all these new power stations been built ? (The UKs largest coal fired power station only manages 4000MW)

  14. Paul

    I wonder who is the stupidest person

    at Google? I mean, there must be one.

    Perhaps he or she is still a semi genius or somesuch. It would be quite an accolade.

    Penguins are quite aerodynamic, but I wouldn't fancy trying to catch one beak-on, as it were, in the mouth. Killer whales have such soft, friendly looking tongues, too.

  15. Kevin Hall

    I thought it was well argued...

    I think some people are trying to mitigate the salient points of the article, I think those that do need to stand in line with the climate change deniers, flat eathers and the like. It's not picking on Google as such - they're just a part of the problem. When just one company uses the equivalent of 5% of the UKs energy then we have a problem which ever way you cut it. Given that relative to the history of humankind, should we really be puking out 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide for a dog and pony show like Google?

  16. walter

    yr all wimps

    the answer is simple for you liberal morons or as I like to call it,'gore-ons'...boycott Google and use ask jeeves or ms may not like the results but what the hell, you'll be in ignorant bliss.

  17. James Pickett

    More arithmetic

    Having now found the original (February) article containing these dodgy stats, I think I've finally grasped the rather tenuous logic. Apparently, all the power consumed by computers, the buildings used to house them and their operators, and to cool/heat/light/feed them comes to an impressive-sounding figure, and it's all Google's fault. Google's bit in all this is probably not so impressive, but in any case we're not told. We're also not told that even 19GW isn't that big a proportion of the 12TW of electricity consumed globally - in fact, I work it out to be about 0.16%, leaving 99.84% being mopped up by things other than computers, even Linux-powered ones. So much for damage to penguins...

  18. PH

    Google Goes Glacial

    Here's me been thinking all day it's an iceberg, not a glacier.

    The lack of the 4/5 under water presumably being, er, artistic licence...

  19. Ashlee Vance (Written by Reg staff)

    Thanks for the feedback

    Just wanted to thank you all for the fine comments.

    My rather fluffy writing style seems to have made sure the central point in this was missed. I'm not blaming Google for the world's woes but rather asking that the allegedly green-minded company be less shy about releasing its power consumption figures.

    I'm sure you've all noticed the major IT vendors banging on about green computing with all their might. Why not demand that they live up to the hype with full disclosure?

    Even Google can give up on its secrecy stance in this area, no?


  20. Steven Knox

    Full disclosure is useless without proper handling


    I think the major point coming from most of these comments is that this article (and, in fact most journalism today) throws numbers out there without fully 1. checking the numbers, 2. analyzing the context of the numbers, and consequently 3. producing usable information from those numbers.

    Checking the numbers would reveal that the Google server "count" was at best a wild guess, and the power consumption calculations were at least suspect, if not downright wrong.

    Analyzing the context of the numbers would have brought in the idea that perhaps (probably very likely) all that power used by Google's servers has less of an effect than the alternatives to web-based searching.

    I would prefer full disclosure as well, but until the world's journalists show that they can actually do math and critical thinking right, I don't blame companies from withholding information from you.

  21. Ashlee Vance (Written by Reg staff)

    Dear Steve


    I see what you're saying, although the larger point is being lost again, I fear.

    That study was the most comprehensive of its kind to date. Make of it what you will.

    You don't need any numbers, however, to know that data centers use up energy - a lot of it. Google has close to, if not more than, a million servers. It complains all the time that energy costs outweigh its hardware costs. That's a lot of energy.


  22. Adrian Coward

    Lies, Dammed Lies and El Reg articles

    "You don't need any numbers, however, to know that data centers use up energy..."

    So, if you don't need any numbers, why write an article based entirely around numbers that are 'dodgy' at best?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    M$ a bigger power waster.

    Power management might work if Microsoft were more interested in making things work than screwing their competition:

    I imagine that the combined power waste of Google's users is orders of magnitudes greater than the amount of power used by Google providing the service. For that we can thank Bill Gates.

  24. Gina


    Penguins are bastards, I say kill the lot of them - and while you're at it, those polar bears aren't much better.

    Google -> Power -> Global Warming -> Death to all the Penguins.

    Actually that's not a reach, it's bang on the money. It just misses out all the other consequences, and gives you one you get your head around.

    Should you pick on Google, and not, say Ford or California? (but it's soo not cool to sweat, after all what's the point of all that cosmetic surgery if I look ugly because I'm sweating.. crank up the AC and fuck the penguins)..

    I believe the point here is the "Look at us - we're so cool and groovy, and like don't be evil man.. oh and fuck the penguins we need another 50 data centers for the sake of the whole world."

    Could he point the finger at a dozen other corporates? Obviously, but again the point seems to be that if you say "Don't Be Evil", that would include not killing Koala Bears, and at least make an effort not to consume more energy than California - rather than hide the fact you do.

  25. Zachary Berkovitz


    Google has hundreds of thousands of servers at least. Most of them crawl the web and index, they don't serve the user requests. Also, each CPU uses around 75-125W and the HVAC systems need to shift that same energy outside of the datacenter, so the actual heat output is greater than the consumption of the computers Typical datacenters being built today use about 2-50MW, all of which is exhausted as heat, unlike in some facilities, like factories.

  26. Chris Fryer

    DC for DCs?

    More numbers for you to argue over: New Scientist quotes Digital Power Group, a Washington DC-based energy research firm, who claim 10% of electricity currently generated in the US is consumed by computers. Servers, specifically, use 14.8 TWH, according to 2004 figures from the Electric Power Research Institute in California.

    A lot of this power is used on cooling, because every single server has its own rectifying power supply to provide direct current, and these generate heat. Even more ludicrously, the mains AC supply in a datacentre is usually rectified to charge the battery-backed UPS, and then converted back to AC for the servers. If all of these could be replaced by one rectification unit that supplies direct current to the entire datacentre, you'd slash cooling costs at a stroke. The trouble is, no-one is yet making DC power supplies for servers.

    You'll need to be a subscriber to read the whole article. If you're not, fire up the SUV and take a trip to your local air-conditioned library.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Even more ludicrously, the mains AC supply in a datacentre is usually rectified to charge the battery-backed UPS, and then converted back to AC for the servers."

    This method leaves the individual servers far less vulnerable to power surges from things like lightning strikes than would be the case when running the ac straight in. Also, any failure of the charging system for the UPS is identified and dealt with right away, rather than remaining undiscovered right up until the time when it's really needed.

  28. Andy Bright

    Easy Solution

    Simply use the power gained by burning all the dead penguins. I'm fairly sure the emissions of penguin carcasses are far lower than coal - problem solved.

  29. Erik Aamot

    Google likely efficient !

    I'd suppose, to both save money, and to be as little *evil* as possible, that Google uses the best power per watt systems it possibly can, and it general, done well, larger data centers are more efficient than smaller ones

    So if there wasn't this *monster* Google, do you think there'd be more searches or less ? .. I know before Google, I'd use about 3 search engines to find results

    remember all the ad banners and other graphic links ? .. seems to me dynamicly generated text ads take less bandwidth and storage than animated or flash ads

    ... think there would need to be more servers that would be less efficient (older on average) if we still had 2-3 mediocre search engines we had to go to, and advertizing was less consolidated and less in text form

    we'll see .. AOL got stuck with declining revenues and large, aging, inefficient data centers .. maybe in 5 years Google will have the same problem, and no longer the capital to rebuild there own infrastructure to compete with newer data center / network design and server efficiency for space and power

    problematic to have 800 acres when 7 years down the road when you might be able to do the same on 80 acres with 20 employees

  30. Paul

    Comments attacking peripheral issues because...

    It's funny how articles questioning the practices of people like M$, Linux, Apple and Google seem to get an array of responses that attack minor details (colour televisions) and peripheral issues (eg everyone else is doing it too).

    The central point of this article is clearly that lobbying for legislation to keep your (significant) power consumption secret is dodgy when your motto is "dont be evil" and you pretty much claim to be socially and environmentally responsible in everything you do.

    Could it be that many of these commenters are just desperate to defend their beloved Google/Linux/MS/Apple/Bush/Blair because they truly believe that they can 'do no evil'? It certainly seems true for the 'Google probably saves more power than it expends' brigade - a PC connecting halfway round the world to a datacentre to find out where to buy something uses less power then wandering round a shopping centre does it? how ridiculous can you get!

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