Q&A with Marshall Brain

Q&A with Marshall Brain

Marshall Brain, a writer, blogger, and inspiration of knowledge for me personally, answered a few questions I had for him about the growth of data center energy use.  Marshall is best known as the founder of How Stuff Works but he has also has written a number of books, essays, and articles ranging from technology to teen inspiration to business.  Given his unique and broad industry perspective, I asked him about the factors driving data center growth.  If you would like to learn more about Marshall, check out his personal website at

Dan:  In the last 5 years, I have been hearing about new data center facilities that are larger and more powerful than the one before them. Why are data centers growing so big and at such a rapid pace?

Marshall: The modern “data center” is a building that houses rack-mounted computers, their power sources, their wiring, their cooling systems and their network connections/routers. This trend started in the later 1990s and has been gaining momentum ever since. What’s been happening in the last 5 years is the growth in massive facilities housing tens of thousands of servers in a single building.

Data centers are growing because the amount of functionality available from web sites has been growing. Also, the amount of information we store “in the cloud” and retrieve from the cloud has massively increased. Think about YouTube alone. It is only 6 years old. Today it is storing billions of videos (massive amounts of hard disk space) and serving over a billion video requests per day (requiring a massive number of servers to respond to the requests). Then there is the internal redundancy necessary to handle point failures as well as traffic surges, plus location redundancy to handle things like natural disasters that take out entire facilities. And YouTube is just one site. Facebook is another. Google, Yahoo, Bing, Amazon, Ebay…. the number of massive sites like these running on millions of server machines has fueled the growth of large data centers.
These companies, at this kind of scale, with the number of services they offer today, simply did not exist a decade ago. That’s why there has been so much growth in the data center sector.

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