How global warming threatens the internet with giant blackouts

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[EN VIDÉO] The Incredible Journey of Global Internet Traffic
When we connect to the Internet, our data travels a very long way. An email thus travels an average of 15,000 km to reach its destination!

Just last week, the record heat wave which descended on England succeeded in setting in motion the cloud services of Google and Oracle. With temperatures exceeding 40°C and failures in some cooling systems, the two tech giants found themselves struggling to keep their servers at a suitable temperature, and had to take several of their devices out of service to limit damage and the risk of prolonged breakdowns.

Web servers, let’s remember, are to make these simple computers under steroids, whose function is to host and give you access to your favorite sites. A service that requiresenergy and sends back a lot of heatjust like your Mac when you follow a stream on Twitch while retouching your latest images in Photoshop.

A technical but also environmental challenge

The issue of server cooling is a real technical but also environmental challenge, and faced with rising temperatures, the challenge is becoming more and more difficult. Besides Google and Oracle, many other data center Londoners, who also host armies of servers, found themselves overheated last week. For lack of a better solution, they had to resort to the most low-tech methods to solve their problem: send their employees to the rooftops with garden hoses to try to cool the buildings!

The Meta-Facebook Data Center in Odense, Denmark.  © Meta

If the situation may seem funny or unusual at the time, it is better not to kid ourselves. For more than forty years, researchers have measured an extraordinary increase in temperatures in Western Europewith a warming 3 to 4 times faster than in other regions of the world located at the same latitudes. The trend is not about to reverse. The coming summers are therefore likely to be synonymous with heat waves but also with increasingly frequent Internet outages. And of course, heat is just one of the consequences of climate change that could threaten the web with collapse.

Melted or drowned data centers

Take the example of the rise of the oceans. Already in 2018, a study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison indicates that, in the space of 15 years, i.e. by 2032, more than 6,000 kilometers of cables optical fiber currently buried will end up underwater in the United States alone. And if you’re thinking that whether they’re underground or underwater doesn’t make a big difference, know that ten days after the passage of the hurricane Katrina, two-thirds of the routed networks in the state of Mississippi were still down.

In France, many cities like Marseille or Le Havre will therefore have to think about the future of their data center before they find their feet in the water. On the other hand, the fires that devastate an ever-increasing portion of what remains of our forests each year also threaten human infrastructure, alongside hurricanes, tornadoesor even storms of snow or periods of intense cold which continue to multiply throughout the world.

What strategy should be implemented to cool overheated data centers due to the increase in temperatures due to global warming?  © Seventyfour, Adobe Stock

Contain escalation to prevent breakdowns

Faced with this weather report ever more extreme, the skeleton physical of the Internet will therefore have to arm itself with resilience, with data centers better adapted to climatic conditions, but also using redundancy to be able to cope with the breakdowns that will inevitably occur. More and more, companies are working to double their equipment, their connections, their power sources, or quite simply their data to guarantee continuous service and limit data loss. A solution that has its advantages but also inevitably means ever-increasing electricity consumption for server farms, which already monopolize more than 1% of its consumption worldwide.

As climate change continues to gain momentum, theinternet carbon footprint also continues to spread like a puddle of oil on the surface of the ocean. A vicious circle from which we can only escape by taking action to reduce our emissionsand completely rethinking the web of tomorrow.


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