Servers? Cheap. Electricity? Yikes!

Ken Brill at Forbes does a little arithmetic to examine the true cost of running a server, and the numbers are a bit of a surprise. Since we're in the midst of something of a boom in data center construction, shouldn't someone be figuring out what they really cost before they buy a bunch of servers and roll out the plans? Because of the weird way accounting departments compartmentalize costs, server farms might seem awfully cheap. Until you plug it all in, of course.

Data-center building depreciation is often carried separately from data-center mechanical and electrical equipment. Utility bills often go to a centralized energy function. Site operation costs for technicians, security staff, power and cooling equipment maintenance, property taxes and other costs are often split between facilities and IT budgets. Nowhere is the total picture consolidated.

He's got a handy chart of expenses. It's Forbes, not USA Today, so it's not a pie chart:

You might admit you haven't lost a lot of sleep of the last row: Greenhouse Gas emissions per server, but accountants would look at the total expenses of running a server compared to the "CapEx," for the capital expenditure of purchasing and installing the server, and have a cow. The cost of electricity alone to power and cool a server exceeds its purchase price in just six years.

So we need to add datacenters to the list of things more expensive to keep up than to procure in the first place, along with sailboats and girlfriends on the side. The author's advice? Servers are more expensive than they first appear, and since up to 30% are probably obsolete anyway, you might want to turn them off and muddle through with only the ones that can pull their digital weight.