Down (or Is It Up?) on the Server Farm: The Reality Behind the Cloud

By: Chris Nerney - Leave a comment


Tell professional colleagues you stored a file on a hard drive, and they’ll almost undoubtedly understand what you mean. Tell them you stored that file in the cloud, however, and even today there’s a chance you’ll be rewarded with a blank stare.

It’s no wonder: After all, the word cloud itself is nebulous, offering no real insights into the advanced server farm technology that is transforming enterprises of every size. Even the full term of “cloud computing” conveys neither the full scope nor the technical nitty-gritty behind this rapidly evolving networking and storage model.

The Reality of the Cloud

There’s nothing magical about computing clouds unless you consider increased business efficiency, flexibility and scalability, along with lower IT costs, to be magic. These mysterious entities aren’t floating around in the sky. Rather, what is referred to as the cloud is simply a group of managed servers within a server farm, just like the ones that have been located in enterprise IT departments for many years.

The explosion of data over the past decade has created huge storage challenges for enterprises. More data means more servers, which mean more hardware, data center floor space, maintenance, monitoring and power and cooling costs. In response to the demand for more computing and storage space, technology companies began offering to host enterprise data in their own physical data centers, each a server farm, which remains connected to a client’s network and IT infrastructure.

That initial data storage soon expanded along with the cloud’s capabilities. Now enterprises can have their applications, IT infrastructure, computing platforms and even data analytics delivered as a cloud service.

Keeping Things Cool on the Server Farm

But delivered from where? The answer is from anywhere: The server farm facility hosting your enterprise’s cloud deployment could be located across the street or around the world. Many cloud hosts have huge server farm facilities across continents, with several being constructed in colder climates.

According to Network World, that’s because server farms consume massive amounts of energy and expend a lot of heat, requiring sizable expenditures for power and cooling equipment. Inside a large data center are rows and rows of servers housed within a closed environment, or a clean room in IT parlance. To keep the server farm running and to prevent overheating, the typical data center uses about 25 percent of its budget on power and cooling costs, according to an IDC survey reported on by eWEEK.

The environmental impact of data center energy consumption and expenditure, not surprisingly, is substantial. According to information compiled by SmartDataCollective:

  • Large data centers can consume as much electricity as some small communities in the U.S.
  • Massive data centers are responsible for 17 percent of technology’s overall carbon footprint.
  • The 30 billion watts of electricity used by data centers annually equals the output of 30 nuclear power plants.
  • Data center servers waste 90 percent of the energy with which they are powered.

To combat the environmental impact, some data center operators are switching to energy sources such as hydroelectric power and wind, as well as recycling waste from their facilities. That change may be necessary as more enterprises embrace the cloud and all it has to offer — and put more pressure on server farms to meet their needs in the process.

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About The Author

Chris Nerney

Freelance Writer

Chris Nerney writes about technology, science and health care for a number of websites and enterprises. He has written extensively about mobile technology, cloud computing, big data and analytics, health care finance and IT, data centers and space technology. His work has appeared in Computerworld,, Data-Informed, Revenue Cycle Insights, Network World and numerous other... Read More