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Restart Podcast Ep. 22: Greening the internet

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The internet has become so central to our daily lives that it is nearly impossible to imagine what would happen if we woke up one day to find it had collapsed. But what is the internet really, and where does it come from?

When we store things in ‘the cloud’ and transfer things by ‘airdrop’, it is easy to forget that the internet is a physical structure that needs to be built and maintained, and which uses energy – lots of it.

Today, Dave talks to Sophia Flucker (Data Centre Specialist) and Dave Lukes (IT Manager) about data centres: the forgotten places that all emails, YouTube videos of cats, online recipes and breaking news updates must pass through before they reach our screens.

Sophia explains some of the challenges she faces as an engineer in devising solutions for cooling these enormous buildings, and explains why the environmental impact of our internet usage is not just related to the amount of time we spend on our devices.

The new Greenpeace Clicking Clean report, which puts pressure on internet-based companies to consider their energy footprints, showed some promising progress among the internet giants; but we still have a long way to go. With the spotlight on Google, Facebook and Amazon, we risk smaller and medium sized platforms slipping under the radar.

And then there is there is the difficult question of replacing older equipment with newer, more efficient models. What about the energy that went into their manufacture, is this taken into account?

The extent of our dependence on the internet means we need to think harder about its future. As demand for data grows, the number and size of data centres will grow with it. We need new ways of thinking about the internet that don’t allow companies – and ourselves – to hide behind the illusion of immateriality.

[Feature image by Flickr user ibmphoto24]

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