This article in a Finnish magazine is the first significant one that I have noticed about the environmental impacts of data centers and IT solutions. It is about a Dutch village got angry for Facebook’s mother company Meta about their data center initiative.

A data center require various resources: Electricity, cooling water and land area.

My purpose was to write a short LinkedIn post. I failed and moved the text here to my blog.

More data means more resources

I remember thinking already many years ago that increased data and software must lead to sustainability challenges at some point. This is quite logical when you think about the speed of the digital transformation.

On top of the local resources, some are global. For example the metals needed for servers.

I admit, it’s difficult to put the data center resource needs to perspective. Most probably it’s not yet as significant as some other industries.

IT can be either beneficial or harmful for environment.

Supposedly it is more sustainable to take a video call compared to driving to the meeting by car. In the big picture we save resources.

But if our lives move to computationally intensive metaverse, resource consumption can increase exponentially. For example playing a board game does not practically speaking consume resources unlike heavy 3D graphics in metaverse.

Well, obviosuly the board game manufacturing consumes materials and it needs to be delivered to the shop. Maybe my point is, at some point the increased data and pixels amount reach the limit when they will be a serious problem.

Increased number of data centers

For example the biggest cloud computing provider AWS had a data center in 10-20 locations globally when I started my career on 2017. With a quick calculation, there are now 26 data centers.

On top of that, the number of lighter edge locations closer to customers is expanding rapidly. At least I don’t remember that those existed 5 years ago.

Numbers might still seem small. But doubling the count every few years leads to a huge number and thus environmental impact during the upcoming years.

What happens when computing resources will become scarce?

At the moment the prices of IT services are cheap compared to alternative options. Most probably some day (maybe in tens of years) we are in a situation that the prices will hurt.

Data centers will rival the resources with factories, fields and living space.

Electricity is needed so much that it will affect the price of the services. It would be interesting to know how much the recent rise in electricity prices has had impact to the IT and data industry.

How shall we solve this?

The unnecessary services will not survive. This is happy news. We don’t need endlessly more advanced Tetris versions.

Software projects require better planning and code quality will be higher. Also great news.

Nobody needs more poorly managed projects. Teams will finally use best practices that have before been difficult to prove financially.

Clean energy will be more popular, even though there are many other factors as well. This mega trend is an advantage for IT solutions where electricity is the main fuel.

I can’t evaluate the exact magnitude when it comes to materials in server manufacturing. But hopefully lack of resources will lead to better circularity. One positive side is that the same physical server can be used for wide variety of solutions.