Microsoft Builds Energy-Saving Data Centre


Moving servers to a new more efficient site will change how development teams work, the company says

Microsoft has announced that it is building a new energy efficient computing lab away from its main Redmond campus which should help the IT giant cut its carbon emissions but has also meant a shift in how software development teams work.

The company announced this week that the new site, dubbed Redmond Ridge 1, is designed to move servers used for software development and testing out of the Redmond campus into a more energy efficient facility which it says will help it cut its carbon emissions by up to 12,000 metric tons a year.

But while the 57,000 square foot site features environmentally friendly enhancements such as outside air cooling rather than traditional chiller system for example, Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist Rob Bernard said the moving servers off campus had not only green benefits but also a significant cultural impact. He explained that traditionally a product group self-manages their own lab in an office building but the new facility is a centrally managed and more energy-efficient alternative. “The opening of Redmond Ridge is a big milestone and represents a real transition point in the company’s culture,” said Bernard.

Bill Laing, corporate vice president of the Windows Server and Solutions Division, the first group to have equipment moved into the new site, said engineers can get “a little uneasy with the idea they aren’t down the hall during testing and debugging”.

Laing admitted there was some initial hesitation over the move by his team but now Windows Server Division now tests builds of Windows Server and other products remotely.. “It was a challenge to get people to make the shift that the machines could be physically remote,” he says.

“To me, the move substantially changed the way we thought about the products,” Laing added. “It was also just good environmental practices. When we initially talked about the idea of this facility we didn’t care if it was five miles away or 500. We thought it was the right direction to go in.”

The new facility, which was officially opened in July, won’t be fully operational until April 2010, Microsoft ha said. The site is called via system of “air handlers” which bring outside air into each enclosed sections of servers and let convection do the work instead of refrigeration, Microsoft said.

“An evaporative cooling system kicks in only when the outside temperature spikes above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooling design, along with other techniques such as dynamic power management, means that servers in the facility will require a third less energy than if they were placed in traditional office buildings,” said Jim Osborne, managed Lab Services product manager.

But despite its apparent focus on reducing its own carbon emissions, Microsoft has been heavily criticised by green groups and environmentalists for pushing businesses to upgrade hardware in order to run new releases of its operating systems. Speaking around the launch of Vista in 2007, a spokesperson for the Green Party warned about the environmental impact of the operating system. “Vista requires more expensive and energy-hungry hardware, passing the cost on to consumers and the environment,” Wall said. “This will also further exclude the poor from the latest technology, and impose burdensome costs on small and medium businesses who will be forced to enter another expensive upgrade cycle.”

The British Computing Society has also criticised the impact of Microsoft’s pressure on businesses and consumers to upgrade hardware. “PCs contain many toxic components, so if they end up in a landfill we are creating a real problem for the future. It can be really easy to pass on the old machine to be reused, and if it’s beyond use, to recycle it,” said BCS president Nigel Shadbolt before the launch of Vista.

Microsoft appears to have learned some lessons however and its latest operating system Windows 7 is being touted as at least using less disk space that its predecessor and potentially better battery life although Microsoft has not put a figure to the claim so far.

Microsoft CIO Tony Scott said that Redmond Ridge 1 shows how a focus on environmental sustainability can also deliver cost savings to businesses. “The energy it takes to run a server now exceeds the cost of the hardware,” Scott said. “At Microsoft IT, our mission is to deliver IT solutions and services that deliver innovation and business value. This facility reminds me of both of those core tenants.”