Is a Korean pop-video sustainable?

Published on 26th June 2013 by Ian Bitterlin

The explosion in data generation within social networking and entertainment continues apace.  By the time you read this the examples quoted here will already have been surpassed by an exponential deluge.  Consider YouTube; a year or so back I used a metric in a presentation to the effect that more video was uploaded to YouTube in a month than a TV network could broadcast in 170 years, 24/7.  Well, I gather that they recently passed 500 years and there is no sign of abatement.  The International Internet Exchange in the Netherlands is churning 900TB/month if you add the input and output – and the growth has clearly been on an exponential curve since 2001.  Improvements in ICT performance (still underpinned by Moore’s Law) has not been able to keep up with the demand so data centres get more numerous and ever-bigger – along with a substantial growth in power.  I suggest that William Stanley Jevons got it 100% right in 1865 when he penned his paradox – if you improve the efficiency of a process don’t expect resource consumption to fall, “the very contrary is the truth” – which now seems to apply to the internet use.  If you offer users huge bandwidth at low cost, don’t be surprised if they use it.


Even though less than 30% of the world’s population has access to the internet the people that do certainly know how to use it.  Consider the Korean pop-video, Gangnam Style, on YouTube.  Uploaded on 15th July 2012 the 17MB video that takes 4.13 minutes to watch is approaching its anniversary with every sign of smashing through 1.7 Billion downloads.  Yes, Billion, not Million.  OK, it’s very catchy and features some exceptionally energetic dancers but the download rate is, literally, phenomenal.  Several million views get added every day.


So what?   Well I am indebted to one of my colleagues, Jon Summers, at University of Leeds for the insight that I will now share with you.  We just need three bits of further information:

  • Time Magazine reported that a YouTube data-centre uses 0.0002kWh to stream 1 minute of HD-video
  • A recent report showed that it takes 0.01kWh to transfer 1MB of data over the internet
  • The average internet access device consumes 0.001kWh per minute of video streaming and saving the file to disk

In the unlikely event that all the 1.7Bn downloads were saved to disc we can only marvel at what 29,000TB of video data would actually consume out of the worlds storage capacity!  Not to mention the opportunity for de-duplication.


But we can do the power consumption calculations instead.  The individual components are almost negligible but multiplying them by 1.7 Billion makes it into a substantial number – 312GWh.  More than the 9 million population of Burundi use in a year (273GWh in 2008), equivalent to 36MW of continuous generation for a year.  If, worst case, powered by diesel, 100 Million Litres producing 250,000 Tons of CO2, equivalent to over 83,000 car-years.  For a bit of fun, watching Korean dancers in hot-pants, the numbers are staggering.


No wonder the internet is straining at the seams… and that is just 4 minutes of the 500 years worth...


Sign in

Forgotten Password?

Create MyDCD account


region LATAM y España North America Europe Em Português Middle East Africa Asia Pacific



Whitepapers View All