Dec 14, 2023

Dark data and green computing

Rohit Roy, PGDM 2023-25  

In today’s world, we all are creatures of convenience leveraging technology for the tiniest of things, no matter how small it is – ranging from storing the most mundane data on the cloud, to searching for the minutest of things on Google. Although these habits have made our lives much easier, the convenience comes at a high cost.

An article by BBC states that in terms of greenhouse gases, one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2 generated and as per a blog post on Demand Sage, there are 8.5 billion searches on Google every day1. So, if we do the math, we will see that about 17 million kg of CO2 is being produced daily by online searching alone. In addition to searching, there are several activities such as storing images on the cloud, streaming videos, sending emails, etc. that a person does. Hence, one can only imagine just how much CO2 we are producing daily.

Additionally, if we were to include the electricity consumed by IT devices, paper printouts, and e-waste, it would amount to a huge amount of waste generation. According to a post from Word Economic Forum on LinkedIn, which quotes Climatiq, data centres have a larger carbon footprint than the entire aviation industry2. An EY report states that, as of 2020, digitization generated 4% of global greenhouse emissions3. Therefore, we must realize how the smallest of things, when done at a scale, can have monumental consequences. This is where awareness and knowledge about concepts like green computing and dark data can play a significant role.

Gartner defines dark data as the information assets organizations collect, process, and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes such as using it as an input for analytical processes, training prediction models, and so on4. Dark data can range from multiple identical images that are never deleted to simple files that are used once and then forgotten. A large portion of the data stored in these data centres’ servers comprises dark data and all of this unutilized data consumes a lot of space and resources like electricity, which could have been utilized elsewhere effectively. According to a Digital decarbonization report, companies generate 1.3 trillion gigabytes of dark data every day, and as per an article on ToffeeShare, it has been estimated that storing 1 GB of data can cost about 3-7 kWh of energy per year. So, if we take an average of 5kWh of energy to store 1 GB of data per year, we can see that corporates consume about 2372.5 trillion kWh of energy on this account alone.

However, the above data is only applicable to corporates, when we take the individual consumption of cloud storage resources into account, particularly for storing documents, text, and media it further paints a bleak picture of the future.

However, all hope is not lost. To tackle these problems, the world has come up with the solution of green computing. NVIDIA defines Green Computing (or Sustainability Computing) as a practice of maximising energy efficiency and minimising environmental impact in the way computer chips, systems, and software are designed and used5. Companies, in their quest to reduce their carbon footprint, have started to incorporate green computing as much as possible in all of their operations and have strived vigorously to achieve the Green500, a benchmark of green computing, which is akin to the gold standard of quality. While companies across various industries are trying to leverage the latest green technologies to improve their efficiency in networking and maximize the optimisation of their processes and practices, we as individuals can also play a pivotal role in accelerating the process. The onus is on us to take individual responsibility and accountability for our actions. We can start by pledging to follow diligently a couple of small eco-conscious practices such as using products with a higher energy star rating, turning off the monitor when not in use, stopping using screensavers, deleting the single-use files, extra photos or memes stored in the cloud, and opt to repair our electronics first rather than replacing them the first chance we get6. Just like how the poet Julia A.F Carney said the quote, “Little drops of water make a mighty ocean”, we too can pool our efforts and take small sustainable steps to make a long-lasting impact on our world and guide it to a greener and sustainable future.






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