Microsoft: How we run a greener IT environment

Microsoft is one of the latest companies to attempt to lure in those looking for ways to go green and reap the cost savings of a more energy-efficient data centre, courtesy of the virtualization and power management features of its upcoming Windows Server 2008 release, but Canadian industry analysts are unsure how enthusiastically Canadians are actually going after the green data centre just yet.

At the worldwide Windows Server 2008 technical workshop this week, Mike Manos, Microsoft’s senior director of data centre services, said, “The actual work of servers are tied directly to operating costs, so (whether you go green) is in line with the direction of the company.”

Thus, Windows Server 2008 was crafted with energy efficiency in mind, according to Microsoft green consultant Dave Ohara. “Combining the 64-bit, multi-core processors, virtualization, and the power management default settings will to help enable people in a new way.”

The U.S. Department of Energy has said that the data centre is the fastest-growing energy consumer in the United States today, with 61 billion kilowatt hours going toward data centre energy consumption and a projected 10-15 more power plants needed by 2011 to keep up with data centre power consumption, said Manos. Over the next five years, Microsoft’s own number of servers is expected to increase by 15 times, its data centres threefold, and the amount of bandwidth used by nine times, and overall power consumption by 15 times, according to Manos, who said that the estimate, while only six moths old, was probably conservative.

The numbers might not sway data centre administrators hardened against the green trend, but they might once governments begin taking a more official stance on energy wastefulness, according to Manos. “There’s an increasing amount of regulation and scrutiny of governments everywhere, and soon there will be regulatory requirements to report (energy usage),” said Manos.

Said Microsoft green consultant Dave Ohara: “The EPA and Energystar are working on data centre and server recommendations, along with user rebates and carbon credit programs.”

It will be these types of reward and credit systems that will most likely proliferate, rather than systems that penalize offending companies, said Info-Tech Research group research consultant Aaron Hay.

Microsoft itself has implemented green data centre strategies from the ground up, according to Manos. He cited using biodiesel fuel in construction, water recycling, and choosing strategic locales that benefit from certain heat and sun exposure as measures that the company has taken to reduce the physical footprint of their newer data centres.

The company also ensures that it buys power-efficient power and cooling supplies, and runs on top of them an in-house software solution that provides power consumption vectors, from the carbon emission footprint status to the weather outside.

“Data centre administrators have to measure and monitor,” according to Manos, who said that Microsoft has implemented an internal chargeback system in its data centres to increase awareness around a facility’s specific power costs. “People think of power as a sub-cost; people think the power bill just gets paid, and that doesn’t drive great behaviour. If you charge for the energy you use, people will be more aware of their consumption.”

Rather than aggregating the costs, each business unit’s expenditures are specified, right from the circuit/rack level. “That way, properties get charged true consumption numbers,” said Ohara. Each unit also owns a certain amount of power capacity (instead of an amount of space in the data centre); units need to use their power or have the unused portion taken away. This type of system could be implemented in any data centre, said Ohara, to engender greater awareness of power consumption levels.