Think about how much data you produce and save. How much of that data goes into the cloud? Have you ever thought about where that cloud is?
The fact is, the "cloud" is made up of physical machines humming away in a data center somewhere. Those data centers take heaps of energy to run and keep cool, and are increasingly a necessity in today's connected world.
At GreenBiz Forum 2015 in Phoenix, Ariz., HP's senior director of Living Progress, Chris Librie, spoke with GreenBiz's Heather Clancy about that data.
"Of course we want to encourage the Internet of Things; we want people to be connected," Librie said. "The issue with it is the amount of data we're creating is enormous."
As we're not all carrying around multi-terabyte hard drives in our back pockets, that data load is falling increasingly on cloud data centers. And that load is massive.
During 10 minutes of the talk, Librie said, humans will create more data than the entirety of recorded history up to 2003. That's a lot of bits and bytes sitting on hard drives.
"Projections of the kind of data we're going to create over the the next few years means that we're going to be 50 times more data rich by the year 2020 than we are today," Librie said. "We look at that not only as a challenge, but an opportunity for our business."
Much of that data will be added by the projected 3 billion new users expected to hit the Internet as people in developing economies obtain network access. All that data has to be stored somewhere.
"When you add to that the the fact that there are going to be 3 billion more middle-class consumers around the world by 2030 — which again is terrific for economic empowerment and the development of societies around the world — we're going to need to find new ways of providing those people with data that are paradigm changing in terms of the energy and space requirements."
Librie pointed out that the energy required to run data centers that currently serve the public cloud equals that of the entire energy requirement of Japan.
"If we're going to have a 50 times increases in the amount of data we need to provide societies, we're going to have to be able to do that in new and different ways," he said.
Energy is only one side to that coin, though. Hard drives, solid state drives (SSDs) and servers take up physical space.
"The other big issue with the public cloud that doesn't get much attention is space," Librie said. "The amount of space that's required to house conventional data centers is enormous, and already it's estimated we're going to need 8 to 12 million more servers to handle the data increases.
"That would occupy a space the length of Manhattan, if you laid those data centers end-to-end. As a native New Yorker, I don't really like that idea."
To get ready for those 3 billion new users, Librie said HP is looking to an array of solutions to meet the challenge. Opting for meshlike distribution of smaller data storage instead of massive data centers is one option. Non-volatile memristors that keep data intact and stable in the event of power loss and photonic circuits that use photons instead of electrons represent other possibilities.
"This whole idea of thinking about purpose at the heart of sustainability is what's driving, I think, a lot of great movement," Librie said.