Fan wall inside Microsoft's fifth-generation data center in Quincy, Washington Microsoft
Fan wall inside Microsoft's fifth-generation data center in Quincy, Washington

Microsoft Pitches Greener Cloud to Lure Customers From Traditional Computing

Says running apps in cloud is much cleaner than running them in on-prem data centers

Dina Bass (Bloomberg) -- Microsoft Corp. has a new way to pitch cloud-computing to clients: appeal to their green side. 

The software giant said that running four popular applications in its cloud data centers significantly reduces energy use and carbon emissions compared with companies’ own server farms.

Microsoft tested Azure’s computing and storage services, as well as running Exchange email and SharePoint collaboration software. The improvements in the cloud varied – small systems running at a company are the most inefficient – with SharePoint showing an energy savings of as low as 22 percent to as high as 93 percent depending on the size and setup of a company’s data center. For the other three tasks, energy improvement was at least over 50 percent and went as high as the 70s and 80s.

That’s because Microsoft has invested in buying renewable energy for many of its massive data center operations and is using energy-saving technology like programmable chips that use artificial intelligence to choose which servers to send traffic.

The company put out the report, which was compiled by Microsoft and consultant WSP Global, ahead of an appearance Thursday by President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith at Bloomberg’s Sustainable Business Summit in Seattle. 

Smith said Microsoft dedicates much of its research budget to investigating how to limit energy use in its data centers because those reductions can make a meaningful dent in global consumption. Cloud-computing customers benefit from those efficiencies because it is cheaper than running their own data centers on premise, he said.

Within the company, Microsoft encourages conservation by imposing its own carbon tax on different departments. The internal tax generates about $30 million a year to invest in efficiency, Smith said.

“It gets people to focus,” Smith said of the tax. “Suddenly they see a line item in the budget, a cost, and they want to reduce that amount of money.”

TAGS: Energy Cloud
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