Microsoft Wants Data Centres To Power Themselves

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“Data Plants” of the future could combine data centres and sustainable energy production

Microsoft wants to change how the industry powers data centres by integrating them with full-scale power plants, two company executives wrote in a blog post yesterday.

According to Christian Belady, general manager of data centre services, and Vijay Gill, senior director of network engineering, data centres of the future will feature renewable power generation on the premises, completely eliminating transmission losses.

Data into energy

Today, Microsoft’s cloud supports more than one billion customers and 20 million businesses in 76 countries. Its data centres are powered by one of the world’s largest fibre optic backbones, providing more than 3.5 terabits per second of capacity to more than 1200 networks.

Microsoft has been doing a lot of work trying to curb its power use and come up with clever cooling solutions. Its latest modular data centres use about 50 percent less energy than those from three years ago, it claimed.

“Our data centre designs – pioneering the use of fresh air cooling and ultra-efficient water use in the latest modular facilities, use only one percent of the water used by traditional data centres in the industry,” Belady and Gill said.

In fact, the modular data centre design was so successful that the United Nations Environment Programme relied on it for the IT infrastructure at its new carbon neutral headquarters complex.

Last year, Microsoft proposed using miniature servers as ‘Data Furnaces’ to heat homes, saving around £184 in cooling costs per server per year. The Data Furnace would use the home broadband network to hook up with the rest of the cloud, providing virtual machines for Internet-based services – while the house-owner would buy it just like a central heating boiler, and pay for the heat it produces.

While this might sound great in theory, the actual logistical challenge means we are not going to see servers heating our homes anytime soon. In contrast, Microsoft’s latest plan actually sounds achievable.

The company suggests massive integration of power plants and data centres, which would eliminate the need for transmission lines, substations and transformers, bringing transmission losses (which can be as high as seven percent) down to zero.

“With these data plants we distribute data (an energy form) in a network (an optical grid) providing the next generation of energy distribution.”

The Data Plants will be more reliable than data centres, as the energy they need will be produced right in the backyard. Microsoft wants these facilities to be “green”, using wind turbines, solar panels and waste gasses, alongside more traditional energy fuels.

“We are committed to the long term sustainability of our industry and believe this is where the industry should focus rather than short term manipulation of carbon PPAs,” say Belady and Gill.

Microsoft has already invested millions in research in this area and has filed several related patents, including one on the Data Plant. Stay tuned, as the company promised more details on the subject later this week.

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