The Water Footprint of Data Centers
The internet and associated Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) are diffusing at an astounding pace. As data centers (DCs) proliferate to accommodate this rising demand, their environmental impacts grow too. While the energy efficiency of DCs has been researched extensively, their water footprint (WF) has so far received little to no attention. This article conducts a preliminary WF accounting for cooling and energy consumption in DCs. The WF of DCs is estimated to be between 1047 and 151,061 m 3 /TJ. Outbound DC data traffic generates a WF of 1–205 liters per gigabyte (roughly equal to the WF of 1 kg of tomatos at the higher end). It is found that, typically, energy consumption constitues by far the greatest share of DC WF, but the level of uncertainty associated with the WF of different energy sources used by DCs makes a comprehensive assessment of DCs’ water use efficiency very challenging. Much better understanding of DC WF is urgently needed if a meaningful evaluation of this rapidly spreading service technology is to be gleaned and response measures are to be put into effect.