Microsoft has recently adopted an initiative to share information with its customers about the energy usage at their data centers that host Azure public cloud services. In this move toward greater transparency, the company hopes to take positive steps toward its plan to remove more carbon than it emits by 2030 while also standing out in the growing cloud-computing market.
The information sharing began this year with the distribution of numbers to customers under nondisclosure agreements on power usage effectiveness at particular Azure data center “regions,” referring to groups of close proximity data centers.
Different regions may demand different needs and can spark advances toward greater energy efficiency depending on particular climatic conditions. For instance, in cooler locations in the world, data centers can be air-cooled, while in warmer conditions, specialized equipment such as chillers may be required.
Noelle Walsh, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft’s Cloud Operations and Innovation group, said that hyperscale data centers operate 98% more efficiently compared to companies, governments, and schools that operate their own on-premises data centers. Microsoft also introduced a Sustainability Calculator with which customers can track the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from their use of Azure to simplify environmental reporting and achieve climate-related goals.
Solutions that Microsoft has tested to lower emissions at their data centers include liquid cooling for servers and the use of batteries instead of diesel generators for backup energy. Liquid cooling has long been used in automobiles to prevent engines from overheating and has recently been improvised by cryptocurrency miners for cooling computing equipment. Now, Azure’s teams have devised a closed-loop cooling system where vapors that rise from boiling fluid condenses and rains back down to servers to continue cooling.
As companies and networks increasingly seek to achieve greater efficiency and sustainability across the board, Microsoft’s move toward a transparent model for information on their cloud computing energy use bucks the secrecy approach to gaining an edge on the competition in favor of an open approach to pull ahead.