Why Internet Outages Will Become More and More Common Nationwide

An increase in temperatures nationwide perpetuated by climate change will cause internet outages to become more and more common as time goes on.

By Jennifer Hollohan | Published

Our entire world is online. Everything we do has some aspect of internet connectivity. So when we hear news about internet outages, it is cause for concern.

All our most trusted and relied-upon apps and programs have massive data centers that house their servers. The size of the data centers will vary in conjunction with the size of the company. But they all share one common trait – a necessity for ample energy.

Every data center has central servers plus backup systems. Those require sensors to monitor for any trouble and a robust fire suppression system. And all of that technology has to be powered and cooled.

So every data center uses tremendous amounts of electricity to run the hardware. However, they also require additional energy (and sometimes water) to keep all that computer equipment cool and prevent internet outages. That takes its toll.

According to data from the International Energy Association, data transmission networks and data centers account for 1% of all energy used worldwide. Most Big Tech companies have attempted to offset that energy demand. They have added wind and solar power, tried water recycling, and tested new and innovative cooling methods. 

Additionally, some tech companies have collaborated with Finland and Sweden to construct data centers in cooler climates. However, sweeping prevention measures cannot address all the potential problems. Recently, multiple news stories discussed the temporary shutdown of data centers due to excess heat. 

In September, record heat in Sacramento, California, forced one Twitter data center to close. The company could not keep the servers cool enough to run. So it closed the center and hoped that the other data centers could shoulder the load. 

Similarly, a wave of hot weather in London last July forced Oracle and Google facilities to shut down. And while neither of these events resulted in internet outages, they left experts concerned. So tech companies are taking additional preventative measures.

internet outages one-company workers remote worker internet creative resume

According to CNET, “…building redundancy in backup systems and power generators ensures that things can go wrong without the whole center shutting down. Using networks of data centers, like with AWS or Microsoft Azure, redundancy makes sure client data is synchronized so that their website or service isn’t disrupted if a data center goes down.” That redundancy should offer a glimmer of comfort to anyone concerned about the possibility of internet outages. 

However, the other important factor to consider is water availability. Since many data centers rely on water to help keep their systems cool, many experts are becoming increasingly concerned. That is because many areas that house some of the largest data centers are also experiencing drought conditions. 

Aaron Wemhoff is an associate professor and director at Villanova University’s Center for Energy-Smart Electronic Systems and one of the experts expressing concerns. He said, “It’s a real challenge for an existing data center to address the issue of water shortages. If your data center needs that water to keep it cool, then it really poses a problem.” 

Unfortunately, there is currently no easy solution to the water question. But many companies are racing to find answers and alternative cooling options, which is good news. Hopefully, they will do so in time to prevent sweeping internet outages.