The Real Costs of Data: The Energy Toll of Cloud Computing

The Misconception of the Cloud

One of the least-discussed topics of the information age is the real-world cost of all the data we generate and consume. Our nomenclature for storing data doesn’t help — the “cloud” sounds wispy and ethereal, and the average user’s interactions with it are designed to be fast, easy, seamless, and almost insubstantial. Our mental picture is often that of a bunch of zeroes and ones floating above and around us, somewhere in cyberspace, untethered to our world, whose forms we can only make out and manipulate through the layers of glass and metal on our mobile device touchscreens and computer keyboards, like the flickering shadows on the walls of Plato’s proverbial cave. But of course, there is a very real, tangible, physical toll to the cloud: the energy required to run the servers on which the data is stored and applications are run, and the greenhouse gases produced as a result.

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