The cloud computing industry is heading for a future of brownouts amid widespread power shortages.
That is the warning of a senior Cisco engineer, who points out that major new data centres currently planned by Amazon, Google and others will have the equivalent power consumption of cities of 500,000 people.
Dave Ward, chief technologist of engineering at Cisco Systems, says that today major data centres consume between 40 and 50 megawatts (MW), but by 2020 the biggest data centres will be drawing as much as 120MW.
Ward told EE Times that while advances in silicon photonics could reduce the need for such large data centres, generating the energy to power all the servers required by cloud computing by the end of the decade "will be one of the most important questions for getting to 2020".
The problem, continued Ward, is not just one of power generation, but also networking and power consumption. Silicon photonics, for which Cisco, Intel and others are developing products for launch in 2014 or 2015, is an infant technology, while current data centres have only just started to adopt 10 gigabit (Gb) per second Ethernet, reaching 40Gb/s in around 2018.
Silicon, too, is reaching the stage where it will leak more power than it uses - waste electricity.
The issue is even more acute in the UK where a slew of power station closures is currently in train - with an inadequate level of new generating capacity being opened to compensate.
This two-decade-long lack of political leadership has been slammed by the UK's data centre industry, but politicians have so far seemed to be deaf to their complaints.
By eliminating high entry costs for big data analysis, you can convert more raw data into valuable business insight.
A discussion of the "risk perception gap", its implications and how it can be closed