Olympic Computing Power

Radio 4’s Costing the Earth: Virtual Warming programme (thanks Simon for downloading the podcast for me) investigated the issue of ‘data centres‘ that enable every twitter, Facebook posting and YouTube video to be viewed, but which all have a carbon cost that is becoming increasingly dear, as our use of computers grow exponentionally.

The programme covered the expanding digital cloud which is contributing 2 per cent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, about the same as aviation, and it’s rising. The high energy demands of the massive data centres needed to store all our information are of growing concern to both the government and industry. Part of the programme was dedicated to the concern that London’s data centre capacity is on the brink of bursting at the seams for various reasons – one of which is the amount of electricity that is required to power such ventures – the reason – this infrastructure may be being held back in reserve for London 2012.

Which got me thinking..? How much computing power is going to be required for the Olympics and therefore what is the carbon cost?

The organising committee for London 2012 have plans in place for the environment and sustainability but has anyone considered the environmental impact of broadcasting and journalism at major sporting events? In Beijing there were more than 20,000 journalists each with their essential equipment (laptops, satellite phones, cameras etc…) then the thousands of kilometres of cabling and networking for all the billions of viewers around the world – that is before we even think about the equipment used for timing and measuring events for the Olympics or even in the lead up to qualifying for the games.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being a doom-monger, I’m just interested. I love everything about the Olympics and what it stands for; I love the competition, the colour and the energy that surrounds the games. I’m sure that London 2012 will be the best games yet under very difficult economic circumstances. Maybe I should send this link to my friend Seb and see if he has an answer?

Matthew Wheeler

Keeper of the Media Zoo

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