The Kardashian family is one of the most influential and popular celebrity families in the world, with a massive following on social media and a large portfolio of different business ventures. The family’s posts often generate a significant amount of attention from their fans and followers, which translates to incredible volumes of web traffic on their online platforms, helping them become billionaires.
In fact, one famous pic of Kim Kardashian was quoted as “breaking the internet.” A reported one percent of all web browsing activity in the US was devoted to viewing her photos from the 2014 winter issue of Paper magazine. And while this photo shoot was a huge success for Paper magazine, the environmental impact was probably never considered.
Internet Traffic Powered by Millions of Servers
Behind the scenes, this massive amount of internet traffic was handled by an equally massive amount of IT equipment running in huge data centers at these social media sites.
In its sustainability report for 2021, Meta announced it used over 9 million megawatt-hours of electricity for the year, with the vast majority of that power attributed to its 33 huge data centers. Total servers per data center is hard to find, but estimates are that each data center has up to 30,000 servers. If even a small percentage of these nearly one million servers delivered Kardashian content, that’s a ton of servers! So the data centers that deliver Kardashian content consume tons of power, with servers being the primary contributors. Based on their report, It is important to note that Meta has some of the most efficient data centers in the world.
Carbon Footprint of a Server
But that’s only part of the story. While servers do consume a lot of power, calculating the carbon footprint of a server is more complicated. There are numerous factors:
- Data center efficiency. Data centers require vast amounts of air conditioning to keep their fleets of equipment from overheating, but some are more efficient at this than others, as measured by PUE. PUE stands for Power Usage Effectiveness, and it’s calculated by dividing the total amount of power consumed by the data center by the amount of power consumed by the IT equipment in the data center. An average PUE in the US is around 1.5, meaning that for every kilowatt of power needed by servers, 1.5 kilowatts is actually needed to run them and keep them cool. The large cloud providers (AWS, Microsoft, Google) are much more efficient than most privately operated data centers and have achieved PUE ratings of 1.2 or lower, with 1.0 being ideal. For example, Microsoft reports its PUE at 1.18, while Meta reports their PUE as 1.09.
- Data center location and renewable energy usage. A server running in a data center that uses all renewable energy has a significantly lower carbon footprint than one in a data center running on fossil fuels. However, this does not totally eliminate the carbon footprint of the servers. Besides running the servers, the manufacturing process accounts for a significant portion of the carbon footprint, which can be up to 40 percent of the total carbon footprint for the product’s life. For example, Dell estimates that 21.2 percent of the carbon footprint of an R230 server comes from the manufacturing stage.
- Server type and age. Generally speaking, newer servers are more energy-efficient than older ones. Manufacturers are continually improving their servers, with more energy-efficient processors, memory, and storage devices. For example, newer processors may use less power while still delivering the same or better performance as older ones. Additionally, server designs are becoming more optimized for airflow and cooling, which can further reduce energy consumption and can contribute to a lower PUE (less power to cool them).
- Server utilization. Virtualization allows multiple virtual servers to run on a single physical server, reducing the number of physical servers needed to support an IT infrastructure. This results in significant energy savings, as running fewer physical servers requires less power for cooling and other supporting infrastructure. Furthermore, virtualization allows for more efficient utilization of hardware resources, meaning fewer physical servers are needed. Cloud computing typically uses servers that are highly virtualized, and therefore contribute to a much lower carbon footprint than running on less virtualized on-premises servers.
- Disposition. Finally, most servers are refreshed every three to five years. The resulting disposition of the server can have a major impact on the total carbon footprint. Interestingly, many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) don’t discuss the reuse of server components, calculating carbon footprint based on the recycled metals and plastics from divested servers. Skeptics might suspect that the OEMs don’t want the components reused—assuming they may sell more new components. Regardless, the actual carbon footprint of a server can be significantly reduced by using a firm like ReluTech to recover value from reusing server components rather than just recycling them.
What does all this carbon footprint data mean?
As mentioned above, different servers can have very different carbon footprints based on all these factors. Ballpark figures estimate the total carbon footprint of a server over a four-year period to be between 2,000-8,000 kgCO2e. According to the EPA, 1000kg C02e is the equivalent amount of emissions created by a typical automobile driving 2564 miles. Using this formula would mean that the emissions from a single server are equivalent to driving a car over 5000 miles.
Calculated by EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator
So, how many passenger car miles would be avoided with no Kardashian clicks? It is hard to estimate. But let’s assume that on that single previously mentioned day, one percent of Meta’s servers were consumed by people viewing the photos of Kim K. (It was likely much higher, since these are social media sites.) That would be 10,000 servers. If we took a rough estimate of 10 kgCO2e per server per day, then that would equate to over 250,000 miles driven in a day. In my next blog, I may have to tell you the scary environmental cost of all those funny cat videos!
What do we do about it?
Eliminating your Kardashian clicks might not save the planet, but it might help! However, the carbon footprint of all these servers can be responsibly reduced using the same principles we were taught in elementary school: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Two obvious steps to take are to:
- Reduce the number of physical servers needed.
- Extend the life of your current servers— upgrade memory or disk with refurbished components, and use third-party maintenance after warranties expire to save nearly 70 percent off the OEM cost while also saving the planet.
Reducing the number of physical servers needed can be achieved through several strategies:
- Go Serverless. While cloud servers are technically still being used in a serverless architecture, they are only used when called, and you pay only for what you use. This can significantly reduce the number of dedicated servers for your application.
- Eliminate and consolidate. There are a lot of strategies to consider, from deduplication, to virtualization, and application consolidation. The benefits are simplified infrastructure that is more efficient and saves money.
- Optimize. This is easier to accomplish in the cloud using strategies like load balancing and auto-scaling based on usage. The key here is to optimize utilization and eliminate the waste of idle resources.
When possible, resist the urge to add more new servers to your data center. For years, many IT leaders running data centers have been addicted to the idea of buying new servers every three to five years and throwing the old ones away. However, these older servers work perfectly fine even well past the published End of Service Life dates.
A tiered approach can be implemented to move older servers to less critical workloads for testing, backup, training or disaster recovery. As stated earlier, up to 40 percent of a server’s carbon footprint is from manufacturing, so reusing existing products eliminates the need to buy new ones. Alternatively, seek a respected value recovery firm like ReluTech that refurbishes and resells all divested hardware.
Finally, all hardware that cannot be reused, should be recycled after ensuring all data has been properly destroyed. This can be accomplished through overwriting, degaussing, or physically destroying hard drives. A certified e-waste recycler typically separates all components to extract metals, plastics, etc for proper recycling or disposal.
Overall, the environmental benefits of server recycling, including reduced resource consumption, decreased carbon emissions, and improved data security make it an essential practice for organizations that seek to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to sustainable business practices.
While reuse will have a much greater impact, recycling results in a net positive impact on carbon footprint. For example, Dell estimates that recycling a PowerEdge R740 has a net positive impact of 200 kg CO2-equivalents. This represents a 1.8 percent reduction of the carbon impact of the server over an estimated four-year life.
Millions of servers are the major contributor to the environmental impact (carbon footprint) of our digital lives. Every Kardashian click comes at a small environmental cost, but there are strategies we can take to significantly reduce their impact.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR | MARK METZ
Mark is the Founder and CEO of ReluTech. With many years of experience in the technology field, Mark is the leading force of ReluTech’s stride to change the future of the industry. Outside of the office, Mark enjoys swimming, playing ping pong, collecting comic books, and traveling with his family.
Get in touch with Mark: email@example.com