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Power The Internet

An Electricity-Cost-Aware Internet Routing Scheme 88

Al writes "Researchers from MIT, Carnegie Mellon and Akamai have developed a network-routing scheme that could save 'internet-scale' companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft million of dollars each year by moving data to locations with the best electricity prices for a particular day. The scheme simply considers both the most efficient routing path for data and the potential cost savings of routing it somewhere farther away. The researchers studied price fluctuations at locations across the country and used data from Akamai caching servers to test the idea out. In the best possible scenario — which would require more efficient servers — they estimate that companies could save as much as 40% on the electricity bills (tens of millions each year). Google already operates at least one datacenter that shuts down when temperatures get too high. Is this the next logical step for internet computing?"
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An Electricity-Cost-Aware Internet Routing Scheme

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  • Prior art (Score:5, Informative)

    by An dochasac ( 591582 ) on Monday August 17, 2009 @10:30AM (#29091619)
    At least this idea [] was previously published at Research Disclosure, a site intended as an inexpensive way to log prior art. It is the next logical step and I'm glad to see that companies are moving in that direction.
    • artistic license (Score:3, Interesting)

      by xzvf ( 924443 )
      Don't forget moving data to avoid taxation (someone political/evil) is going to get the bright idea of taxing transactions in a data center eventually), prosecution (might have to move the people executing the transactions, I picture cruse ships in international waters for online porn and gambling eventually, which brings up the issue of pirates, but that's another topic), and law suits (someone sues, infringing a patent, divorce - migrate your business to a friendly location).
      • I picture cruse ships in international waters for online porn and gambling eventually

        These guys have a better architecture for what you propose: []

        The thing about Cruise ships, is that they are not a good place to keep valuable permanent assets, like your financial data. One Rogue Wave, and they are potentially toast, and all of your secrets are subject to salvage laws in international waters. Not good. But Spar Buoys of sufficient size are immune to all wave action, due to simple geometry -- the part in contact with the water sits vertically, and has a very small cro

    • It is the next logical step and I'm glad to see that companies are moving in that direction.

      Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) had allusions to a new kind of economic system, partly based on Thermodynamics. The cost of everything was mostly determined by the energy input, including the energy advantage of using natural resources, like metal ores. (There's a whole heaping lot of metal in ordinary soil, but it takes a lot less energy per unit mass to get the stuff out of ores.)

      I think you could morph the current economic system into one with a Thermodynamic/Informa

  • by BlueKitties ( 1541613 ) <> on Monday August 17, 2009 @10:33AM (#29091641)
    While at first this struck me as an interesting idea, it took me a moment to realize that this is just dynamic (err... at server runtime) outsourcing. So, really, this isn't very amazing. Still, I think this is a good idea for us consumers: it means electricity usages for certain areas can shrink, which could potentially help lower rates for the rest of us. For once, outsourcing might be good for the economy.
    • Well, at the same time that electricity usage shrinks in some areas, lowering prices, it would increase in other, increasing prices.

  • by rodrigoandrade ( 713371 ) on Monday August 17, 2009 @10:34AM (#29091659)
    Will the savings from this measure be passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices?? If so, I'm all for it; else, screw this, I won't take a performance hit on the Internets just to make some CEO and stockholders even richer.
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday August 17, 2009 @10:42AM (#29091793) Homepage Journal

      You just don't get it.
      Will the savings be passed on to the customer? Yes because the customer is Google, Microsoft, and maybe Amazon.
      What people don't get is that you and I are not Google's, Facebook's, or even Slashdot's customer.
      We are their product.
      Unless you buy ads on those services you are not their customer.
      Amazon is different but I doubt that this will cause a performance hit that you notice or they will not do it. But really folks get a clue. We are Google's customers like a cow is a dairy farmers customer.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        We are Google's customers like a cow is a dairy farmers customer.

        You mean... Google wants my man-milk?

        I'm strangely aroused and confused.

        • We are Google's customers like a cow is a dairy farmers customer.

          You mean... Google wants my man-milk?

          Son, if you are a man-cow, the farmer isn't interested in your milk, he's after your tenderloin. And ribs. And brisket. And tongue.

          I'm strangely aroused and confused.

          If you are aroused by what would be a fatal situation for you, you are confused.


          Yes, meat is murder. Tasty, tasty murder.

          • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

            Yep I would say that in this persons case he is confused. He wouldn't be a cow so much as a steer.

      • by Turiko ( 1259966 )
        except that the cow has no choice but to be milked. If i wanted to, i could stop using google and use another search engine. If a compan,y does something to piss off the people visiting their site, they'll feel it. think of what would happen to youtube if they charged for uploading videos... or even worse, for viewing them. I doubt that it would stay like that for long... either the site taken down or no more charging.
    • Sure, Google for one will no doubt be happy to pass along the savings to the majority of their customers. I'm sure they'll pass along the entire 40%.

      I'm a pretty typical Google customer, so let's add up the savings. Let's see, I use Google Voice, GMail, Google News, Google Maps / Google Earth, Google Documents, occasionally YouTube and probably a small handful of other services less often. My total bill comes to a whopping $0. $0 minus 40% is $0. See? They've passed along the entire savings.

      Heck, mayb

  • Smoke and Mirrors (Score:3, Insightful)

    by duffbeer703 ( 177751 ) on Monday August 17, 2009 @10:36AM (#29091697)

    The end result of these sorts of schemes is that large companies will increase local demand and local electricity prices. The big users will get rebates and concessions, while small users, particularly residential customers, will get hosed.

    At the end of the day, once a few large players do this, the benefits will be marginal for them, as electricity costs are mostly driven by peak load.

    • That's contrary to the point of the system, which is to route traffic to where electricity is cheapest. If prices go up, the traffic will be routed elsewhere, instantaneously. So if you're in the business of selling electricity, your incentive is to lower prices to attract additional demand when you can handle it.

      Economies of scale tend to make things cheaper. I don't see why this would be any different.

      • Economies of scale make things cheaper when the suppliers of a commodity have the ability to "scale" -- (ie. produce additional supply to meet demand) The point of this system is to create optimial cost structures for the data center operators -- not the grid as a whole.

        The high cost of electricity in many places is a result of peak demand -- the cost to deliver the first 85% of electricity supply is lower than the final 15%.

        Why? Power plants are expensive to shut down and startup, so most coal/hydro/nuclea

        • by BranMan ( 29917 )
          <quote>Shifting demand on a large scale is going to screw up the economics of power supply.</quote>

                I don't get it - why would this screw anyone? If the datacenters have high rates, doesn't that mean that the electric company can't keep up with the peak demand, so they are raising prices? And so if you shift your data elsewhere, reducing the peak demand in that area, doesn't that help everyone, including the electric company?
  • Wouldn't re-routing the data also use up electricity. And possible more electric power would have to be re-routed to the low-cost servers. This sounds like something dreamed up by an accountant. Since mains electricity still has an environmental cost, there would be no real benefit. Sounds like it came from the same stable as carbon-emission trading ...
    • Routing packets costs money in terms on bandwidth, which is how you indirectly pay for the router and electricity used to route your packets.

      These costs can all be calculated. If I can use this system to save $40,000 on electricity by increasing my bandwidth cost by $10,000, that's a signal that using the system is more efficient than not using it.

    • I imagine someone who implements this scheme would make sure the data has already been offloaded BEFORE peak demand.

      There are a few points here:

      (1) A data center broadcasting its data out to an alternate probably consumes little or no extra power than one that is just serving up web pages, other than the cost of transmission. All of the hard drives and fans are still spinning, you've just got a small incremental cost for the extra network traffic.

      (2) Most of this can piggyback on already-existing algorithm

  • Electricity costs are something you measure based on tariffs. If you have a load curve of a pattern, one particular place is the best place to be, so you can just move your building there.

    • by R2.0 ( 532027 )

      "Electricity costs are something you measure based on tariffs. If you have a load curve of a pattern, one particular place is the best place to be, so you can just move your building there."

      Except that very large electricity users can cut their own deal with the power company, and part of that deal can be demand pricing.

      Remember how Enron manipulated electricity prices in California? The only reason that worked was that Cali had a very inelastic supply-demand curve - Enron could ask for, and get, very high

      • The scenario that you describe tends not to happen because most people that big have industrial agreements with fixed prices for power. I've seen electric bills for guys like steel mills that use up 3MW to well, melt metal with. Or, an oil refinery. Those guys get bills based on a tariff which has a fixed demand price coupled with a fixed price per kw consumed.. so, any spot pricing fluctuations they are insulated from. There are minimum usage requirements that most of these guys meet.

      • by tjstork ( 137384 )

        In the case of Enron, you are confusing ISOs/RTOs with end customers. In the case of California blackouts and manipulation, they didn't do anything wrong. Where they were wrong is they stated they had this big bandwidth business they were building, but they couldn't get it to work, so they just made everything up.

  • by ion++ ( 134665 ) on Monday August 17, 2009 @10:52AM (#29091921)

    This is good for wind energy. Wind energy has the problem that it sometimes doesnt blow, and other times it blows too much ;-)

    I have read it is possible to give pretty accurate wind predictions. This could be used to start servers in locations where it blows too much, and stop servers in locations where it doesnt blow.

    • by Shakrai ( 717556 )

      Wind energy has the problem that it sometimes doesnt blow

      My girlfriend has that same proble.... n/m

      • I will only say this ONE MORE TIME.

        This is /.

        There are no GFs here.


        • This is /.

          There are no GFs here.

          Even if that is true, it is possible that some people, who use Slashdot, have girlfriends. </pedantic>

    • This is good for wind energy. Wind energy has the problem that it sometimes doesnt blow, and other times it blows too much ;-)

      Plus, all those turbines will help cool down the servers. Win-win!

    • I don't know why this post was marked as off-topic. It seems completely reasonable to me. Many forms of alternative energy (especially wind and solar) have the problem that they amount of electricity they provide varies a lot over time. As these alternatives represent larger and larger fractions of electricity production, energy prices will vary over time more and more and this sort of technology will thus provide more and more benefit.
  • Yes. (Score:1, Redundant)

  • comcast and at&t get a hold of this and we are routed through china to get our email...
    • If the source and destination are both in the US, then there would be no reason to route through China.

      Just getting a packet from the US to China is going to require a lot of hops around the US - and probably Europe - and then it still has to come back in at some point and reach the US destination.

      Even if energy was free in China, I don't think there would be any reason to route intra-US packets there.

  • Hang the latency... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Monday August 17, 2009 @10:56AM (#29091979) Journal
    When asked whether deciding to route based on electricity prices, a spokesman for the group said "Hang the latency. We don't care if the packets take two or three times as long to get where they're going as long as our costs go down. Not only that, but we're marketing this as 'green networking', which means we'll be able to charge more for it. Everybody wants to be green these days. It's a great scam... I mean scheme."
    • PING ( 56(84) bytes of data. 64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=1 ttl=51 time=66.5 ms PING ( 56(84) bytes of data. 64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=1 ttl=244 time=155 ms PING ( 56(84) bytes of data. 64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=1 ttl=51 time=53.3 ms I'm not seeing a huge problem. Hell, Australia's servers respond faster than the US server
      • 53.3 ms times the speed of light is only about 10 000 miles: not enough for a round trip from Colorado to Australia even if you had a light speed connection going straight through the Earth's mantle.

        Google must mirror close to you; it's also suspicious that and share the first and second numbers (suggesting that they're physically not too far apart).

  • Low Datacenter Costs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Monday August 17, 2009 @10:57AM (#29091991) Homepage

    On the subject of data center running costs, why are there not more data centers in Iceland? The cold climate (to minimize cooling costs, which can be 50% of the total power drain in hot climates) combined with cheap renewable geothermal electricity would make it ideal I think.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      why are there not more data centers in Iceland?

      Why not Greenland? The climate there is actually colder than Iceland, and it has a more ecologically friendly name.

    • by bumburumbi ( 1047864 ) on Monday August 17, 2009 @11:40AM (#29092703)
      With only two cables connecting Iceland to the Ineternet, companies have not been eager to set up shop here. FARICE-1 [] is fairly modern (2004), CANTAT-3 [] is rather old (1994) and a new cable, DANICE [] is being built. For many companies the risk of one or more of these cables being down is to large to offset the cheap electricity and cool weather.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Fastolfe ( 1470 )

      For companies that are latency-sensitive (like Google), it doesn't make sense to serve a lot of traffic out of Iceland (except to Icelanders, perhaps).

    • Old newss. Google already shift load globally to reduce electricty consumption for cooling and is probably more important than saving a few percent on electrity cost: []

      While Belgium is likely to be pretty expensive to live, I bet it's still cheaper than Iceland (though the whole country going titsup during the GFC may change that).

  • So let's say Minneapolis has the cheapest power that day, but then they have more-than-normal consumption rates. Will brown-outs occur or will the power companies not allow the infringing data companies on the grid to keep the indigenous peoples' lights on? It would suck if I lived in town and my power went out because Google wanted to save a few $$.
    • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Monday August 17, 2009 @11:10AM (#29092173)

      So let's say Minneapolis has the cheapest power that day, but then they have more-than-normal consumption rates.

      This scenario makes no sense. If a utility is experiencing high loads, they will charge *more*, not less. And the higher the load, the more they'll be charging. This scheme directs data center power consumption *away* from heavily loaded utilities, not towards them.

    • In order for Google to use the electricity, they already have to have a datacenter in the location. So they are already "local customers" and are fully capable of of running their datacenter at full capacity.

      This isn't some magic way to siphon electricity from grandma's house. All it says is that google will turn off datacenters when the price goes up. This could actually save you from a brownout if Google uses a large percentage of electricity in your locality (doubtful, their usage probably is noise wh

      • I don't think the power grid is set up to let everyone on the grid run their electricity at 100%. It's set up to run at somewhere above the maximum expected load. I don't think the maximum expected load is anywhere need 100% of customers using 100% of their circuits. Take the example of everyone flushing the toilets at the same time. The system isn't made to handle extreme situations like this, because the odds of them happening are zero. Now, if you have many data centres in close proximity, and for so
        • The "brownout scenarios" assumes that the data centers are a large portion of the overall electrical load, which is unlikely.

          Even if they were, causing brownouts in the place where would be counterproductive for Google et. al., so I'd seriously doubt they'd adopt a system where they were taking out their own servers' power source. But that's beside the point; prices aren't low at times of peak usage, so this problem wouldn't exist by definition of the way the system works. This system would help drive tra

        • Power grid DDoS? Gross.
    • As a couple of the other posts have implied, a Google data center would likely get more expensive when demand is at peak.

      Most commercial contracts have a provision for variable rates based on demand, and if they don't these sorts of data centers would be an ideal situation to introduce them. Google, Akamai, whomever could simply come into town and say "we want to build a building somewhere near a local Internet hub". The building would be fed plenty of power when demand is low, and that power could be sol

  • Dear "outsourcing" naysayers..

    READ THE SUMMARY. Like, the part where it talks about prices across "the country." As in, the country that the named companies operate in, i.e. the USA.

  • How about placing an outdated nuclear sub on the sea-bottom near the arctic circle instead of sinking old ship off the warm coasts for coral reefs. It would have to be gutted, then filled with servers and a way to pump glycol in-and-out for cooling, the glycol would be chilled by cool arctic waters. You'd have electricity for as long as the on-board nuclear plant still had fuel. If done off the northern coast of Alaska you'd only need to run a few short fiber links to land. There's plenty of military bases,
    • You would need more than one connection to the internet for this to be helpful in any way.

      If data has to go back out the same way it came in, then what was the point?

      Even if the electricity cost is zero on your sub, it needs to achieve *some* advancement of the packet toward its destination or it is pointless.

  • Would there be any benefit to Google (or whomever) to install a crap-pile of batteries that would charge during the low-rates and run the data center during the high-rates? That way they wouldn't need to shut down the operation just because electricity is expensive at that moment.
    • Well, they probably already have UPS units on their servers, which are effectively batteries. However, these units (in a datacentre) are usually only enough for a few minutes, long enough to get the generator up and running. I don't think enough batteries could be gathered to run these servers for long enough to take advantage of the change in energy prices.
    • by Kyont ( 145761 )

      Sure, people and battery companies are looking at this already. Altair Nano [] and A123 [] come to mind. But, utility-scale batteries (a.k.a. a crapload of smaller batteries linked together) like this are very pricey on a per-megawatt basis.

      So the question they have to answer is whether the difference in electricity prices between peak hours and off-peak hours is enough to justify the cost of buying and maintaining the batteries. The economics are getting better over time as battery technology improves, but at

  • One problem in optimization for brick-and-mortar companies with huge supply chain is "minimum landed cost at best profit margin". A friend of mine does such calculations for such organizations and provides ways to fine tune the supply chain leading to direct savings. Throw in things like lowest latency and mininum number of hops etc the techniques apply to problmes for a company providing services related to the internet. For a company that spends a big portion on electricity to provide services to its cons
  • This is another case of look at what we can do tech-wise without looking that there are buisness solutions already in place. Any company that is the size of google etc. Where they are concerned about a particular risk in electricity prices would simply hedge these risks in the financial market... Not to say this tech isn't a nifty approach to things just is it the optimal solution biz wise
  • Someone in the Federal government realizes that they can tax all of that savings to increase revenue. They'll accuse these companies of being greedy profit mongers who aren't paying their fair share and tax the fuck out of the savings. They'll be moving data from state to state and the Federal government will have the jurisdiction to get involved.


  • Shades of rn? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HTH NE1 ( 675604 ) on Monday August 17, 2009 @02:40PM (#29095703)

    The kids these days probably don't remember this bit of text, but it used to be the standard warning before sending a posting out to a network which we talk about in exactly the same way you talk about fight club:

    This program posts news to thousands of machines throughout
    the entire civilized world. Your message will cost the net
    hundreds if not thousands of dollars to send everywhere.

    Are you absolutely sure that you want to do this? [yn]

    And that was just for sending text messages usually under 4 KB in size.

    And now they talk about cost-aware routing?

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford