Microsoft tells cloud customers about data center energy efficiency

Scott Guthrie, Executive Vice President, Cloud and Enterprise, Microsoft Corp., speaks during the Microsoft Developers Build Conference in Seattle, Washington, USA on Monday, May 7, 2018.

Grant Hindsley | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Microsoft plans to tell its customers more about the energy consumption of the data centers that host Azure public cloud services. With this information, customers can find out where to deploy their applications as efficiently as possible.

The practice is in line with the plan Microsoft unveiled last year to remove more carbon than it emits by 2030. It could also help the company differentiate itself from potential customers to grow in the growing cloud computing market that Amazon is a leader in.

In general, companies that run these large computing facilities have kept their efficiencies a secret. Large tech companies spend billions each year to build them, and operating efficiency can be a competitive advantage.

However, that year Microsoft began sharing information about power usage effectiveness for “regions” of Azure data centers – groups of data centers in the vicinity – to some customers under nondisclosure agreements, said Noelle Walsh, corporate vice president of cloud operations for the company and innovation group.

“We’re becoming more and more transparent with some of these numbers,” said Walsh. The data center breakdown by data center may be too detailed, but the work by region is fine, Walsh said.

Walsh said the company will not be too open about the information for fear that it will backfire.

“If everyone chose, the overall optimum might not be the most environmentally friendly solution,” said Walsh.

In some parts of the world, like Dublin and Seattle, it is possible to ventilate cool data centers, while in warmer locations cooling the computer infrastructure may require the use of chillers or other equipment, Walsh said.

“Our European customers want a lot more insight into the details of how we run our data centers,” she said.

She said hyperscale data centers are 98% more efficient than local data centers that businesses, governments, and schools run for themselves. Last year, Microsoft introduced a sustainability calculator that customers can use to track greenhouse gas emissions from using Azure.

There are ways to reduce emissions in existing data centers through technology. Microsoft has been testing liquid cooling for servers, and the company plans to use batteries as an alternative to diesel generators – a source of emissions – to provide backup power, Walsh said.

Francesco Tinto, Chief Information Officer of the Walgreens Boots Alliance, which uses Azure, addresses the idea of ​​learning more about efficiency in data regions.

“Even in our network, we are entering into other partnerships with other providers to reduce our carbon footprint, our usage, etc. So it’s absolutely important to us,” he said.

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