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New Law Lets Data Centers Hide Power Usage 208

Posted by Zonk
from the users-and-abusers dept.
1sockchuck writes "Just days after Google announced that it may build a huge data center in the state, Oklahoma's governor has signed a bill into law that will effectively exempt the largest customers of municipal power companies from public disclosure of how much power they are using. Officials of the state's power industry say the measure is not a 'Google Law' but was sought 'on behalf of large-volume electric users that might be considering a move to Oklahoma.' Others acknowledge that data center operators were among those seeking the law, apparently arguing that the details of their enormous power usage are a trade secret. Google recently acquired 800 acres in Pryor, Oklahoma for possible development as a data center, and is reportedly seeking up to 15 megawatts of power for the facility."
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New Law Lets Data Centers Hide Power Usage

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  • by MarkPNeyer (729607) on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:24PM (#18724797)
    Effective Immediately: Do some Evil. Just, you know, not too much.
    • by Guanix (16477) on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:39PM (#18725007) Homepage
      Reminds me of a story of a Supreme Court oral argument once, where a Justice made a reference to the First Amendment. The lawyer arguing the case replied, "Your Honor, you know, and I know, that when it says, 'Congress shall make no law,' it actually means, 'Congress may make some law.' "
    • 12 inches below Eric Schmidt's waist?

      The governor of Oklahoma's tie.
    • A Troll? I don't think so. At least an insightful troll anyway.

      There's plenty of evil that can be done once you don't have to record your resource consumption. OK, I doubt Google is going to become the largest marijuana grow-op in the United States, but anything that leaves accounting to the imagination will inevitably end up considering evil since there's no fear of being caught.
      • by russotto (537200)

        OK, I doubt Google is going to become the largest marijuana grow-op in the United States
        And a damn shame that is.
        • Reminds me of a giant grow up that got busted in Barrie Ontario a few years ago. They set up shop in a Labbatt's brewery that had just been made redundant and shut down. The power company didn't put two and two together and realize that the circuit the place was on shouldn't still be drawing the huge amount of power that it was. Someone finally figured it out and they investigated. All the plants were being grown in the stainless steel aging tanks.
  • And? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BobMcD (601576) on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:25PM (#18724805)
    There's got to be a point in here somewhere. I wasn't aware that A) you could check on how much power someone else was using or that B) it was any of your business or that C) you could do diddely-squat about it.

    Someone care to enlighten me?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Stanistani (808333)
      Psst. The real secret here is that Al Gore is planning to open a huge data center.
    • by MarkPNeyer (729607) on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:31PM (#18724885)

      Power Companies are granted monopolies by the public. Part of the deal is that, because the power companies are granted a monopoly by the public, they have to publicize all transactions they undertake.

      Why? Otherwise, you could have sweat-heart deals between the power companies and their customers. Instead of paying the power company (and thereby the people) for your power usage, you could pay the owners of the power company to give you a huge discount. The power copmany then can just raise rates on consumers who have no say in who gives them power. By forcing the company to keep the books open, you prevent the possibility of impropriety.

      I would argue that such issues are a good reason to switch to more heavily privatized models. Ideally, the government would maintain the infrastructure, and anybody who wanted could add power to the grid. That'd be sweet.

      • >sweat-heart deals

        If you use such new coinings on your blog, I have to read it!
      • Pork (Score:3, Funny)

        I am not making this up.
        From TFA: "At a pork barbecue celebrating the announcement of the data center deal, Google held a question and answer session with local dignitaries..."
      • by acidrain (35064)

        So... Google is able to use it's purchasing power to force a state protected monopoly to give it an unfair deal compared to other customers of the utility. The politicians pass a law keeping this a secret, and in doing so they can claim to be giving their state an advantage, and at the same time avoid publicizing the embarrassingly large handout they are allowing.

        Interesting. Hard cash sounds like a much more likely reason for Google chose one location over another. Although a little privacy never hurt.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MindStalker (22827)
          Though given Data Centers in general are one of the few rate heavy power users who use as much or more power at night than the day can present a cost savings to the power company. Especially if this center installs solar/etc meaning it uses more energy at night than the day. Trust me Google is still paying millions for its energy, but this allows the Energy Companies to use those millions to expand their offerings when ultimatly Google is adding less than this cost to the peak usage figure.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by NickDngr (561211) *

        I would argue that such issues are a good reason to switch to more heavily privatized models. Ideally, the government would maintain the infrastructure, and anybody who wanted could add power to the grid. That'd be sweet.
        Yeah, because that worked so well in California.
      • >Part of the deal is that, because the power companies are granted a monopoly by the public, they have to publicize all transactions they undertake.

        Bullshit; I can't see my neighbor's power bill.
        • The cops can and do check both your power bills. (In case you decide to run 10,000 W worth of lights and grow illegal crops in you basement.)
        • Bullshit; I can't see my neighbor's power bill.

          Have you ever tried? Where I live, the power company is required to disclose this to anyone who asks. It's a very common practice if you are buying a house (or even looking for an apartment to rent) to call the utility company and get the current occupant's bills, as a way to estimate what your own utility costs will be.

          Don't believe me? Just ask Al Gore. [go.com]
          • by toddestan (632714)
            I just checked my local power company's website. Here is what they have to say at http://www.xcelenergy.com/XLWEB/CDA/0,3080,1-1-1_ 3 5439-1368-0_0_0-0,00.html [xcelenergy.com]:


            What Information is Shared

            Xcel Energy has a strong policy regarding the disclosure of customer information. In general Xcel Energy does not sell or share individual customer data. Xcel Energy will not sell, rent or give away your personal information to other companies for use in selling others products or services. When we contract with another comp
      • Pay to get a discount? Am I the only one who doesnt get that?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          electricity costs $1million. You pay the people who run the electricity company $100,000 (which is more than they would see from profit in their bonus/dividend/paypacket from you spending $1million on the electricity). You can now magically buy the electricity for $500,000. Total cost: $600,000; Total saving: $400,000. Everyone else collectively pays $500,000 between them to balance the books and keep the Christmas Bonus as fat as last year. Company board is up $100,000 in bribe money, you're up $400,000 in
          • by treat (84622)
            You pay the people who run the electricity company $100,000 (which is more than they would see from profit in their bonus/dividend/paypacket from you spending $1million on the electricity). You can now magically buy the electricity for $500,000. Total cost: $600,000; Total saving: $400,000.

            Kickbacks are post-tax cash. The $100,000 kickback costs $200,000. Total cost is $700,000, savings is $300,000.

      • by tacokill (531275) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:26PM (#18726473)
        You need to distinguish between generation, transmission, and distribution. You can't just say power companies are granted monopolies. They are not and that is not an accurate way to describe them.

        A power company is not just a power company. There are 3 distinct pieces and each one gets treated separately according to the law and society. Generation makes the power and is usually private (in Okla). Yes, there are muni's and co-ops but in general, Okla power generation is privately owned. Transmission is long haul transmission and it is regulated in Okla like it is in most (48) states. Distribution is step down and delivery to customers and it, too, is regulated (by the Public Utilities Commission). When you talk about deregulation of the power industry, you are usually talking about the distribution part. Generation, for the most part, has been unregulated for a long time.

        Second, the situation you describe (subsidies from customers to large companies), is the very reason the PUC exists -- to keep everyone honest and protect consumers. And you'll just have to trust me on this one...no power company in their right mind wants to tangle with the PUC here in Okla.

        Now, the article in question is talking about municipality owned generation so yes, it is still a concern. But please realize that it's not just the "power" company. There is much more to it than that and its important to understand all the pieces.
      • Instead of paying the power company (and thereby the people) for your power usage, you could pay the owners of the power company to give you a huge discount. The power copmany then can just raise rates on consumers who have no say in who gives them power.
        Why am I reminded of the way insurance companies, the stock market, the .com bubble, and illegal Enron FBI domestic Patriot HP Martha Stewart DMCA wiretapping presidential elections when you say this?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Hey, privatizing worked really well in california iirc. So it could work anywhere.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by spurdy (590954)

        Power Companies are granted monopolies by the public. Part of the deal is that, because the power companies are granted a monopoly by the public, they have to publicize all transactions they undertake.

        Um...no. I don't know where you got that idea. Power companies do NOT have to publicize all transactions they undertake. Power companies enter into special contracts with large users all the time. It's not illegal. Usually, there's some special consideration, like agreeing to interruption during periods

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by bob frost (850405)
        I wish I could agree entirely with the previous post. I worked in and on the fringes of the power industry for a while, and I pride myself as an educated observer on these issues. Indeed, utilities have traditionally been publicly regulated as natural monopolies (the thinking here being that the cost of power industry infrastructure is high enough that it makes little sense to build duplicate systems--a logic which, when not applied to the US mobile phone industry gave us 4-5 lousy, incompatible, and overpr
    • Re:And? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SydShamino (547793) on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:36PM (#18724969)
      My guess is:

      Later, the power company comes back and says "Hey, public, we're running out of power, and we need to build three more coal-fired power plants near your town, and by the way, we want to avoid regulations that require us to clean our exhaust because that would hurt our bottom line."

      The public says "No way, I don't want your pollution clogging my air, worsening my asthma, and causing my city to become subject to EPA regulations. I resent you trying to avoid cleaning up your own mess. By the way, who's driving this demand for power? Is it big business or folks like me, because I know I try to conserve my power use by turning off lights and even switching to CFLs? I don't want to pay (in terms of taxes or pollution) for power generated to serve some big out-of-state business, especially one that doesn't generate many local jobs."

      Then, the power company says "-snicker- We can't tell you who is using the power. Just give us the plants or we'll do rolling blackouts on your homes and schools."
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by profplump (309017)

        The public says "No way, I don't want your pollution clogging my air, worsening my asthma, and causing my city to become subject to EPA regulations. I resent you trying to avoid cleaning up your own mess. By the way, who's driving this demand for power? Is it big business or folks like me, because I know I try to conserve my power use by turning off lights and even switching to CFLs? I don't want to pay (in terms of taxes or pollution) for power generated to serve some big out-of-state business, especially one that doesn't generate many local jobs."

        Right. Because big business is evil and always wastes power and individuals are always good and save power. And businesses don't hire anyone locally, not even to run their new power plants. And local people wouldn't want new "out-of-state" businesses in their town even if they did. And air pollution in some other state is better than air pollution here.

        Thanks for clearing that up for me. Without all those perfectly valid lines of thought I might have suspected your were just trolling.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hondo77 (324058)

          Without all those perfectly valid lines of thought I might have suspected your were just trolling.

          Pot, meet kettle...

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by vonhammer (992352)
          Now, now - play nice. His point (I'm sure) was that this information is being deliberatly hidden from view. Some businesses absolutely contribute to the local economy and some don't. Without knowing the truth about how much power they consume, you and I cannot make a value judgment on whether or not it is worth letting them build the infrastructure they want to support the business.

          I for one would want to know the bottom line.
        • by kindbud (90044)
          Dennis Miller > You
        • by pcmanjon (735165)
          Datacenters don't create many jobs. I've worked at a datacenter with over 5,000 servers and only about 6 employees were required. This is with support calls daily from clueless customers. I imagine a Google datacenter requiring even less employees.

      • by FudRucker (866063)
        thanks for the insight, i will remember Google's data center in Pryor (northern part of the state) if power consumption becomes an issue...
    • by dhasenan (758719)
      I'm just waiting for Google to start building power plants. Though I'm not sure how they'd send advertisements via electricity...
      • Maybe they will just start collecting stats on your power usage. If they did so, they could tell if you were a likely consumer of electronic goods, discern the times of day when you are most active, have a reason to pull full credit information on every subscriber to their power utility, etc. Google could apply brainpower to something basic like electrical supply and leverage that to add to their data models on you, thus making ads served in other venues (web, tv, radio) more closely matched.

        Just one trai

  • by Anonymous Coward
    All one need do is incorporate and claim to start a large server farm. Then grow grow grow your way to PROFIT!!!
  • Trade Secret? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by brennanw (5761) * on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:28PM (#18724847) Homepage Journal
    How exactly is power consumption a "trade secret?" That makes no sense...
    • Data centres use power to cool and power the computers in their facilities. Methods vary from centre to centre and one might have a much more efficient way of doing things.

      By not disclosing their power usage, they can protect themselves from people (spies) who may want to discover their methods. Although they may want people to know "Hey! we use 1/3 the power of everyone else and have twice the computational power and storage capacity!" they don't want to draw attention to themselves.
      • Re:Trade Secret? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by geekoid (135745) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `dnaltropnidad'> on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:07PM (#18725439) Homepage Journal
        In order for that information to be of use, you have to know a lot of internal information anyways.

        Trade secret is not a logical reason, the only logical reason for this is so they can play power shell games. No other reasons at all. And since they exists soley because the government says so, we are entitled to all that information.

        The governer just did a big diservice to the people who voted for him.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hrieke (126185)
      Well,

      Back in the days, when the Japanese where trying to break into the American automotive market, they used to send groups over to measure the rust on the rail tracks.
      Why?
      Because it would then be simple to know how often the trains where running, how much wear on the tracks (thus how big and heavy the trains are), and a whole host of other tidbits which would be useful in competition.

      So now, you know that Google's newest complex needs X amount of power, and using some IP tools, you can see what traffic is
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by bigwave111 (1046082)
        Yeah, but given the amount of resources Google provides for its employees, it's safe to say that 50% of all power will go to catered meals, jacuzzis, and vibrating beds for nap breaks on those difficult 6 and a half hour work days.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:30PM (#18724863)
    Anon here! I live in Oklahoma, and we will do anything we can to get businesses to migrate here. I don't really see this as an issue with Oklahoma itself, but the fact that we have a crumbling economy with more jails than schools. Can you really blame us?

    Of course, no one ever talks about the good things coming out of Oklahoma law making bodies...

    http://www.normantranscript.com/localnews/local_st ory_098012317/ [normantranscript.com]
    • by FudRucker (866063)
      wow, a whopping 3%, i think the alternator in my pickup can do that, i will just hook it up to a bicycle...
    • by loucura! (247834)
      I don't really see this as an issue with Oklahoma itself, but the fact that we have a crumbling economy with more jails than schools.

      When I am elected President, I will personally ensure that Oklahoma has fewer prisons than schools... by turning the state into a Federal Penitentiary.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by geekoid (135745)
      "Can you really blame us?"

      Yes.
      When the power company starts saying they need to build more plants or rolling blank out will start. and you can not find out how much companies are getting discounted you will only have youself to blame.

      Also, when companies staart paying directly to the shareholders, and you energy bill goes up, and your taxes go up, you will only have yourself to blame.

      This will not help OK for any reasonable amount of time.

      Maybe people should figure out why so many are in jail. Maybe someone
      • You are crazy (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tacokill (531275)
        You, sir, get the crazy post award of the day. At least on your power comments.....and the rest is a little suspect too.

        First of all, we (we being Oklahoma) have PLENTY of power. To my knowledge we've NEVER had rolling blackouts or anything close to that. Do you even know where OK is? Do you know how many power plants are within 200 miles of Pryor? I do. They are my customers and there are a ton of them. Additionally, we aren't like California. Contrary to what you state, we are well prepared t
    • From what I have heard, Oklahoma is a good place to build a wind farm. Google should build a bunch of turbines there and draw off the grid only when they need to. It would be good publicity, probably economical in the end, and fit in with their do no harm or whatever it is.
  • by ZoOnI (947423) on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:36PM (#18724967)

    If googles energy useage is hidden, the state can give them cheaper electricity than everyone else and the taxpayers pick up another corporate bill.

    With the greener thinking of the world, Oklahoma's power may be from nuclear/coal plants, making Google a not so green business.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by xlv (125699)

      With the greener thinking of the world, Oklahoma's power may be from nuclear/coal plants, making Google a not so green business.

      Please do not group coal and nuclear together. Nuclear is currently the "greenest" electricity production option for a large scale output whereas coal releases heaps of nasty stuff in the air, specially as electric co. are slow to use filters to clean the exhaust of their coal burning plants.

  • So, who are we to go about chucking stones at the new Evil^H^H^H^HGood Empire when we rush out to buy Plasma TVs just in time for the Super Bowl / March Madness / ...? I'll betcha that around the Super Bowl, we added a few 100 MW of draw to our already overloaded power distribution system.
  • Not all hidden (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trailwalker (648636) on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:47PM (#18725143)

    Oklahoma's governor has signed a bill into law that will effectively exempt the largest customers of municipal power companies from public disclosure of how much power they are using.

    This bill hides only their electric power usage.

    Their power to manipulate the legislature is out in the open.
  • by tehwebguy (860335) on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:47PM (#18725145) Homepage
    That's nothing, I've seen a car that requires 1.21 Jiggawatts
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:50PM (#18725181) Homepage

    Locate your pot growing operation in Googles utility tunnels. No wonder all their employees are so loyal. :)

  • I have no idea how much power that my family uses, or what the neighborhood average is, or how much is the city high, low, median for businesses. Now that I think about it, it would be awesome for anyone to find that information out. I'm into energy efficiency. I don't like the green/GW agenda, but I do think that knowing how much resources that you and your neighbors are using and attempting to use less is a good thing.

    I can think evil thoughts when I want to. How would I be evil? I'd try to get a city/co
  • When? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bobcat7677 (561727) on Friday April 13, 2007 @04:57PM (#18725303) Homepage
    When is Google going to start getting into the power business? Seems like it's a very key part of their operation. Maybe they should start devoting some R&D twards coming up with solutions to their power consuption problem. Could save the company millions and result in technology that makes them the end all ruler of everything.
    • by rahvin112 (446269)
      Google also had a new power supply developed for their servers that is an order of magnitude more efficient than your standard atx power supply. Supposedly deploying it in all their data centers cut their total power consumption by 10%.
  • Naive?! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    An average datacenter consumes ~15 Megawatts of power... are we really that naive to think that google only uses 15 Megawatts of power?! It's 800 acres! That's bound to be >200 Megawatts just for this piece of property. I don't even want to guess as to the total power consumption of google boxes all over the world :(
  • 26,800 hp (Score:2, Interesting)

    by reedjjjr (1073868)
    15 Megawatts is 26,800 horsepower, or about one jumbo jet. It's probably mostly for air conditioning the servers and personnel in the hot Oklahoma summer. Are you going to turn off every large business that has air conditioned facilities? Ground all the airlines? Just throw the switch on the internet, or at least ban all the porn. That ought to free up some power.
    • Exactly - considering that a small power station generates 500MW and a big one 2000MW, the 15MW is drop in the ocean.
    • ban all the porn

      I can see the headlines now: Global warming is caused by porn

      That should please a lot of people, and the rest will probably keep their mouths shut, opening the door to my new corporate strategy:

      1) Create .sex domain

      2) Unplug it

      3) ???

      4) Prophet ;-?

      ...Or maybe I need another coffee.

  • I hear... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:22PM (#18725639)
    I hear Al Gore is looking for this law in Tennessee as well.
  • It would be good if Google can use some innovative ways to dissipate the heat and lower the costs in doing so.In particular, they could use geothermal to help cool the CPUs. This would be MUCH more useful than spending money on solar cells.
  • by AusIV (950840) on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:55PM (#18726009)
    I may be wrong, and I can't cite any studies, but I've long suspected that despite seemingly high amounts of energy used by data centers, they save a lot of energy (as well as other resources) in the long run.

    For example, I used to take the paper. This had to be printed, delivered, and recycled / disposed of. Now I have several news feeds on my home page that keep me up to date. Not only do I get more information, I'm pretty sure less money goes in to delivering news feeds than printing a paper.

    Another example is shopping online. I do much of my christmas / birthday shopping online. Rather than driving all over town to shops that are each individually heated / cooled, I order gifts online and have them delivered. This may or may not save energy with regard to me driving to the store vs having something delivered to my house, but large warehouses delivering to customers are bound to be more efficient than large warehouses delivering to stores, and customers coming to stores to do their shopping.

    The same goes for general research, entertainment, telecommuting, etc. - I keep hearing about the energy costs associated with web based facilities, but I can't help but feel they reduce energy consumption in the end. Admittedly, they may be able to improve on their energy usage, so I'm not sure I like this new legislation (and in the state of my current residence, no less), but I would like to see some data on the energy savings that stem from data centers.

  • When it comes to government and other monopolies, less transparency is almost always bad. There has to be an extraordinary reason to reduce transparency. The potential reasons given so far are all mundane. None are critical. Many of us would like to have more privacy and freedom for a lot of non-critical reasons and some crucial reasons. However, government and big businesses trample over our wishes and our rights all the time without ever noticing. There is no reason why the biggest consumers should
  • Secrecy is a bad thing. Secrecy is how the unscroupulous commit crimes, fraud, manipulate the system to advantage, etc.

    Who give a flying flip how many computers Google uses? The secret is in how they are run. A law that hides power use is a setup for the Oklahoma government to attract a big business to the state while having ratepayers subsidize Google. It's essentially a tax.

    I guarantee the other half of this story is how big of a discount Google will get for electricity.
  • Why should a company's power usage statistics be public knowledge? You can't know how much toilet paper I use, what phone numbers I call, etc. There's a reasonable expectation of privacy within private transactions.
  • by Atilla (64444)
    I bet their connectivity bill is gonna be good a chunk of change... Pryor is kind of a middle-of-nowhere town with barely an industrial park to justify its existence. They should've put it closer to Tulsa, which has more fiber than a train load of Metamucil.

    I can't wait for them to settle in and start doing [no] evil just miles from my home!
  • did anyone else read that as "but was bought 'on behalf of large-volume electric users that might be considering a move to Oklahoma" ?

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