Data centers can use as much water as a small town – Microsoft just pledged to reduce this

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What takes up hundreds of thousands of square feet, is full of waiters, and craves more than a movie buff without soda and popcorn eater? A data center.

But, but, but: On Wednesday, Microsoft announced that it will reduce the amount of water used by its data centers by 95% by 2024, and net produce water by the end of the decade.

Data centers power compute-intensive but ubiquitous technologies like AI, machine learning, and cloud computing. They also regularly use massive amounts of water to cool their servers, through a process called “evaporative cooling,” which typically kicks in when outside temperatures exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • A typical data center uses 3 to 5 million gallons of water per daytime, equivalent to a city of 30,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, reports NBC News.
  • And as more companies cloud their operations, server warehouses are becoming more common: Microsoft alone will build 50 to 100 new data centers per year, reports The Verge.

Microsoft’s water reduction strategy is twofold, according to The Verge: On the one hand, after testing its systems, the company will set higher limits for when evaporative cooling kicks in. And in very hot environments, like desert regions, many data centers are integrated, it plans to use immersion cooling, a less water-intensive process that cools servers by immersing them in a specialized liquid bath.

Zoom out: Google has also said it wants to produce water by 2030, in particular 120% of its consumption. Amazon notes that it has “optimized these cooling systems to minimize water consumption,” but has no specific commitments listed.

  • Amazon and Google did not respond to requests for comment on whether they would commit to meeting similarly aggressive water targets by 2024.
  • Together, the three companies represent the majority of “hyperscale” data centers in the United States.


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