Designs for These Times, por Roca Gallery

As we’re consuming more data, we should give data centers our attention.

If the late 20th century was all about the conspicuous consumption of physical objects—home appliances, fashion, ready meals—then the early 21st century is about the conspicuous consumption of data. Technological advances mean many activities and transactions have moved online, from shopping and socializing to working and watching TV.

This transition may appear effortless, but there’s a vast, largely hidden industry allowing it all to happen at lightning speed. Digital data needs to be stored on computer servers, which are housed in data centers. And there are a a lot of them. According to market intelligence provider International Data Corporation, the number of data centers worldwide has grown from 500,000 in 2012, to more than 8 million today.

Every search, click or streamed video sets several servers to work. And this takes energy, meaning our digital consumption—Google processes approximately 63,000 search queries every second, that’s 5.6 billion searches a day—is driving data centers’ consumption of energy. Computer World predicts that data centers’ energy consumption will account for 3.2% of the total worldwide carbon emissions by 2025, consuming up to a fifth of global electricity.

Energy is used to manage the temperature, humidity and dust inside data centers, so that their systems can operate reliably, safely, efficiently and continually. Unsurprisingly, they’ve been criticized for the power used to run and, more importantly, cool the servers to prevent them melting down. Around 40% of the total energy that they consume goes into cooling IT equipment.

There is also much talk of the heat they give off going to nearby homes through district heat networks—a case of waste heat turned into an energy source for our consumption. Scott Brownrigg’s new concept, created for Roca Gallery London’s latest exhibition, Power House: The Architecture of Data Centers, plays on this. The architects’ “mixed-use and up close” idea imagines a data center in the middle of the city sitting alongside urban farming, brewing, robotics and a produce market. “These activities make use of the DC’s waste heat,” say the architects.

Meanwhile, data centers built in cooler countries, maintain a lower temperature in part by the weather. The Lefdal Mine Data Center in Norway, is an extreme example. It’s 85ft underground, surrounded by solid limestone, and cooled by water from nearby fjords.

This document was first published in www.rocagallery.com.

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