Microsoft’s Top 10 Best Practices for Creating Sustainable Data Centers

How to Reduce Energy Consumption, Waste, and Costs while Increasing Efficiency and ROI

Microsoft recognizes the tough challenges that data center and IT managers face today as they struggle to support their businesses in the face of rising costs and uncertainty about the future. But the fact is – being “lean and green” is good for both the business and the environment.

It isn’t always easy to know where to begin in moving to greener and more efficient operations. With that in mind—we have shared our Top Ten Best Business Practices for Environmentally Sustainable Data Centers in a white paper.  In this rapidly changing environment it is important that we all continually reassessed and share our best practices with each other.

As you’ll read in the list of best practices we’ve compiled, companies can make major gains by providing incentives to your team to reduce energy consumption and drive greater efficiencies across the entire data center and employing a wide range of practices that can collectively add up to significant gains. Microsoft has been using these practices for several years now and has found that in addition to helping to improve environmental sustainability, they make best use of our resources and help us stay tightly aligned with our core strategies and business goals.

During my keynote at the upcoming Samsung CIO Forum, I’ll be discussing Microsoft’s top ten best practices for creating sustainable data centers which are based on some basic principles:

Provide incentives that support your primary goals:  Incentives can help you achieve remarkable results in a relatively short period if you apply them properly

Focus on effective resource utilization: Energy efficiency is an important element in Microsoft business practices, but equally important is the effective use of resources deployed.

Use virtualization to improve server utilization and increase operational efficiency: As noted in the point above, underutilized servers are a major problem facing many data center operators.  In today’s budgetary climate, IT departments are being asked to improve efficiency, not only from a capital perspective, but also with regard to operational overhead.

Drive quality up through a comprehensive compliance program:  Microsoft recognizes that comprehensive and clearly communicated security protections are essential to building the customer trust necessary for cloud computing to reach its full potential.

Embrace change management:  Poorly planned changes to the production environment can have unexpected and sometimes disastrous results, which can spill over into the planet’s environment when the impacts involve lower energy utilization and other inefficient use of resources.

Invest in understanding your application workload and behavior: The applications in your environment and the particulars of the traffic on your network are unique, and the better you understand them, the better positioned you’ll be to make improvements to take advantage of emerging technologies like solid state drives.

Right-size your server and network platforms to meet your application requirements:  A major initiative in Microsoft data centers involves “right-sizing the platform.” This can take two forms. One is where you work closely with server manufacturers to optimize their designs and remove items you don’t use, such as more memory slots and input/output (I/O) slots than you need, and focus on high efficiency power supplies and advanced power management features.

Evaluate and test servers for performance, power, and total cost of ownership:  Microsoft’s procurement philosophy is built around testing.  Our hardware teams run power and performance tests on all “short list” candidate servers, then calculate the total cost of ownership, including energy costs. These tests can help justify the use of low power processors and “green memory” even at a slightly higher purchase price if it results in lower total cost of ownership.

Standardize the infrastructure as much as you can:  High degree of variability in the infrastructure can increase costs.  Standardizing on a small set of servers, network equipment and data center technologies can drive economies of scale, and reduce support costs.

Take advantage of competitive bids from multiple manufacturers to foster innovation and reduce costs:  Competition between manufacturers is a good thing, which Microsoft encourages through ongoing analysis of proposals from multiple companies that puts most of the weight on price, power, and performance.  Microsoft develops hardware requirements, shares them with multiple manufacturers, and then works actively to develop optimized solutions.

Beyond the business principles listed above, Microsoft’s Global Foundation Services’ team is taking significant steps in four areas important to environmental sustainability:

  • Using recycled resources whenever practical
  • Using renewable resources to power our data centers
  • Reducing waste in operations
  • Taking part in industry environmental groups

 Microsoft was recently recognized as one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s  Green Power Partners of the Year.

As part of its commitment to operating sustainably, Microsoft is purchasing more than 1.1 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power annually, making the company the third largest green power user in the Green Power Partnership (GPP) as of July 2012. Microsoft’s purchase, along with a combination of energy efficiency measures and an investment in high-quality carbon reduction projects, resulted in the company meeting its goal of reducing carbon emissions by at least 30 percent per unit of revenue below the company’s 2007 baseline.