Microsoft: Centralization is Driving Energy Efficiency

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Microsoft’s Brian Janous was the keynote speaker at Data Center World Spring 2013, which got underway yesterday at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. (Photo: Josh Ater)

LAS VEGASMicrosoft is looking deeply into energy efficiency and insists that that its gaze must encompass the entire system - not just on a the level of the data center, but scrutinizing what it takes to create a unit of content.

We are now in an era of centralization, Microsoft Director of Energy Strategy Brian Janous said yesterday in his keynote address at Data Center World Spring 2013 at the Mandalay Bay, drawing many parellels between the data center and energy industries at the turn of the last century.

While the talk was dubbed “commoditization of the cloud,” a key theme was the centralization of data that is occurring thanks to cloud, and the efficiencies this is driving in terms of energy – the oxygen of the cloud.

Energy is Critical

Cloud is driving centralization, which is in turn driving the need for efficiencies. “There’s probably no other industry, at this point, where energy is more critical,” said  Janous.

Janous oversees energy agreements for Microsoft, as well as strategic partnerships to make sure the company’s power supply is reliable and sustainable. Joining Microsoft in 2011, his career had largely been focused in the energy sector. Janous believes data center operators must look into the entire supply chain for opportunities. This includes “out of the box thinking” on topics such as fuel cells, methane, solar and everything in between.

“Physicists believe it’s possible to create a perpetual motion machine, if this happens, everything I talk about will be irrevelant,” Janous joked.

What Microsoft is Doing and How They’re Doing It

Microsoft has been moving from a traditional box software company to an online services company. Microsoft runs 200 online services worldwide. Office365 is the fastest growing product in the company’s history, Janous said, serving more than 1 billion customers in the cloud. Janous provided a quick snapshot of where Microsoft’s data centers are and noted that the company is still in rapid expansion mode. ““It’s an exciting time to be on the forefront,” he said.

The company sees the evolution of efficiency in the data center occurring over five generations. The first was colocation; multi-tenancy to take advantage of scale. The second generation was a focus on density. The third on containment. The fourth generation is modular. The fifth generation is Integration, is this is where Janous says PUE will approach the 1.0 mark.

“Integration is thinking about system on a chip, and it’s a little broader than that. It’s about what it takes to make a data center work. “What integration means is thinking about upstream and downstream value chain and how we optimize it,” said Janous.

In short, efficiency isn’t just about the facility. “Let’s figure it out all the way to creating a unit of content,” said Janous.

Centralization Drives Efficiency

Janous spoke of parallels between online services and the energy sector, particularly the electricity sector. “Beyond the dependencies, there are a lot of similarities: large centralized plants, a network, and we have a need to balance supply and demand on a near instantaneous basis,” said Janous. “There’s not a lot of industries that need to do this.”

“On a macro level, I think of the development of the electricity sector and over the last 100-150 years, it developed as starting as bunch of components, and then became centralized in plants. This is what we’re seeing in data centers these days.”

Janous notes that there were roughly 50,000 power plants distributed across the United States at the turn of the previous century. “Businesses didn’t trust utilities,” he said. “Then we had a massive revolution, not just on the tech side, but the business side. Centralization meant you could spread costs over customers, driving costs down and driving up demand.”

Janous believes the data center industry needn’t fear commoditization. He uses the example of the light bulb. Electric companies believed that because the light bulb was 4 times more efficient, it would drive them out of business. Instead, it created 4 times more lights. The corollary: as we get more energy efficient in the data center, it creates a bigger demand.

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About the Author

Jason Verge is an Editor/Industry Analyst on the Data Center Knowledge team with a strong background in the data center and Web hosting industries. In the past he’s covered all things Internet Infrastructure, including cloud (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS), mass market hosting, managed hosting, enterprise IT spending trends and M&A. He writes about a range of topics at DCK, with an emphasis on cloud hosting.

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