back to article Microsoft: We're hugging trees to save the 'world'

Microsoft is turning over a new leaf and going green. At least, that's what the firm’s chief environmental strategist has claimed as he sketched plans to make its data centres more sustainable and efficient. This is not the first time Microsoft has talked about cleaning up its act, but at a green technology event in Santa …

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It should be possible to stick data centres were power sources like geo-thermal and solar heat can take up the bulk of the strain. That would do a lot to lower the impact of energy demand.

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Anonymous Coward

Stick a data centre in a hot place (solar) or use source (geothermal) that is more often than not used for heating?

Sticking them in cool regions with hydro makes a lot more sense.

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There's going to be only so many places that can meet those criteria. Solar heat works by using mirrors to focus sunlight and heat salt so it's not necessary to have it in a hot place. There are things like green roofs that can lower the temperature of the building.

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It should be possible to stick data centres were power sources like geo-thermal and solar heat can take up the bulk of the strain.

Solar, no due to its diurnal variation. You could "daylight shift" round the globe, but the economic and environmental impacts of server under-utilisation would make no sense. And if you build where solar has the best performance (closer to the equator) you have much greater cooling costs.

On geothermal, maybe, but as a rule you've be supplanting existing uses of "easy" geothernal, so the net gains could well be nil.

The real answer is low cost nuclear. Bit in the UK we don't have that due to a bizarre decision to select the unproven and wildly expensive Areva EPR.

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Iceland. Cold with lots of geothermal power.

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Anonymous Coward

slow off the mark

it will expand the percentage of wind, solar and hydropower energy it uses to 50 per cent by 2018, with further increases beyond that.,

Apple has set a high bar here and this goal by MS seems a little low but hey, it is a start at least.

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Pint

Re: slow off the mark

For North America, it's trivially easy. Put the server farms in Canada.

Canada's grid is already 65% hydro, not to mention 18% nuclear. Plus a slowly increasing share from wind and solar.

With some consideration of precise location within Canada, it'd be very easy for any data center to be 100% 'carbon free', either renewable hydro or nuke.

Done.

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Re: slow off the mark

Glad to hear it's solar, hydro and wind. Fascinating article in New Scientist today showing how burning bio-mass (traditionally seen as very green) is actually, on the whole, not very green at all.

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Re: slow off the mark

"For North America, it's trivially easy. Put the server farms in Canada."

It's not quite as simple as that. Data protection laws prohibit sensitive US data from being stored on servers which are physically located in another country. I know this as the UK-based company I work for is currently looking to set up a US DC for that very reason.

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Re: slow off the mark

Fascinating article in New Scientist today showing how burning bio-mass (traditionally seen as very green) is actually, on the whole, not very green at all.

And (speaking as an energy sector oik) this blindingly obvious insight has taken the tree hugging twats how long? Everybody who could think for themselves knew this decades ago.

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N2
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How about

Just not connecting electricity at all?

If they're so energy efficient then some solar panels, inverters & batteries with a couple of wind turbines should be fine.

Support would have the 'we had a power outage' taken off the crib list & then they could say, yes we run on our own juice.

Down vote me all you like but Im not a flax eating wierd beard

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How about

You are close to being 100% right.

You are missing one essential thing, storage of the power you generated.

So add a humgous Tesla System to the DC and you are good to go.

Doing thos sort of thing does cost a lot of money, serious money. You only have to look at the size of the PV array that Apple has put in in Az to see that.

http://pv.energytrend.com/news/Apple_50MW_Arizona_PV_Plant_Ready_to_Sell_Power.html

50Mw of power generation is serious grunt.

Kinda makes my puny 5kw array seem like childs play.

Love of hate Apple, they do seem to be leading the pack in going green. Well, they should they have enough money to do it. But this is a long term vision and requires the company to stick a big finger up at the short termism of Wall St. MS could easily do the same.

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N2
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Re: Re: How about

Vanadium batteries are a possibility.

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Re: How about

If you are looking for battery storage for a data centre, then unlike an electric car or a phone, energy density per cm^3 or per kg is not that important. I've seen reports of installations that have used lead-acid batteries.

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"The leading cloud companies have a responsibility to address this energy usage"

Here's an idea : how about pushing molten salt reactors that use Thorium ?

That would be responsible in many ways, pushing the economy towards an energy technology that is plentiful and without any of the risks currently associated with nuclear tech.

Plus, given the amount of energy consumed by these data centers, they would be independent from the local grid and thus have a redundant energy source in said grid if anything went wrong.

This tech has been pushed aside from the cold war imperative of creating plutonium for nuclear bombs. We don't need plutonium any more, and nobody wants the hydrogen risks that pressure water reactors can create.

So think outside the box, people, and do something that is truly useful for Humanity and our future.

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Re: "The leading cloud companies have a responsibility to address this energy usage"

Here's an idea : how about pushing molten salt reactors that use Thorium ?

Problem is that batteries are a net consumer of power. Add in the considerable capital costs, factor in the energy losses, and batteries struggle. Certainly there's use cases (eg the recent EFR auction for those who know what I'm on about), but batteries have to cost about 20% of current costs before they change the world.

Ultimately storage will change the energy world (for better or worse!) but betting on any particular chemical battery is risky, particularly as supercapacitors develop. Likely outcome is a mix, but how much of a gambler is you typical investors

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If they really were concerned...

Then what about all the old hardware - pc's running XP, Vista, W7, etc. that can't run W10 that are now considered obsolete by Microsoft's standards? Maybe the RAM can't be upgraded, the drivers incompatible, speed too slow.

What is MS doing to ensure these don't go into landfill? MS should take some responsibility for this as they caused the obsolescence.

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Re: If they really were concerned...

After reading this article I thought that if Microsoft were really concerned, they'd have flagged up the link to climate change. However, before sounding off, I thought I'd better follow the link to Microsoft's statement and found this right at the top of it:

"The world is experiencing the very real effects of climate change, including extreme weather, droughts, air quality problems and the warming of our oceans."

So, it's The Register which doesn't want to acknowledge the connection.

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Anonymous Coward

Considering the strides made in genetics, wouldn't it better to...

Build giant wheels attach some cables to them and use 40 ft Hamsters to run in them and power their servers?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Considering the strides made in genetics, wouldn't it better to...

Yes, but then you have a methane issue, not to mention the hamster-turd-pellets-the-size-of-refrigerators removal problem.

The whole thing is actually an unsolvable terrestrial problem. There is no satiation of the requirements for compute and storage, so, to not affect the planet surface, datacenters must be run in space where they can't influence the planet. Plenty of sun for the electricity and plenty of cold air for the cooling. Massive, multi-channel microwave for the connectivity and the problem is solved.

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Anonymous Coward

My apologies, i didn't think that one through properly.....space based Datacenters though...hmmm

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Going solar

Generally means wanting less cloud.

MS are likely dicovering their energy cost are rising and need to do something to mitigate that, sogoing green or at least producing some of their own energy is more like a necessity than a move to save the planet.

But hey! why miss out on a bit of PR when the oppurtunity arises.

Not sure if even Microshaft could consider running their own nukes, it's not so much the cost of building as paying for all the crazy safety redundancy that goes with it, in spite of coal adding to radiactive backgroung levels mors than nukes do.

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Is everybody missing the point here.

All Microsoft operating systems have always consumed masses of power when they are doing nothing. How many people over the years have watched the drive access light flashing away, wearing out the hard drive and keeping the electric meter spinning when the computer should be completely at rest. Android uses a tiny fraction of the energy most windows machines do. Multiply this profligate squandering of power by the billions of PCs switched on at any moment and any power consumed by the data centres becomes completely irrelevant on a global scale, the only effect of this initiative will be on Microsnot's electricity bill.

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Re: Is everybody missing the point here.

The fact that the hard drive LED is flashing indicates that Windows is doing something with the disk. Whether it is doing anything useful -- indexing, integrity checking etc -- is debatable. Android uses a fraction of the energy for disk usage because Android devices use flash storage which operate in a different way. Consequently, fitting flash storage in a Windows PC will reduce your energy usage.

Windows is lousy at power management and the NT variants always have been. Turning them off when they aren't going to be used for a few hours will save you enough money over the year to buy a few boxes of tea bags*. You can use the tea bags to make Britain's favourite warm beverage whilst your PC boots up.

More than a decade ago, a colleague noticed that his PC became warmer when the pretty screen saver kicked in. With the aid of a power meter and a process examiner, we established that the PC and Windows did more work to run one of the standard screen savers -- using OpenGL -- than when running a web browser or MS Office.

Historically, Windows power management limitations have partly been the fault of Intel and AMD. Today Intel are doing better. Occasionally, I get a brown out at home -- the lights and monitor blink out -- but my Mac Mini keeps running on the energy stored in the mains adapter. I can unplug and immediately replug without a blink -- don't try this experiment with unsaved data.

As part of a Windows 7 roll out, the design team designated a couple of technicians to measure energy usage with various settings. Inevitably, it was a complete waste of time. Unless you have a special use case, the standard settings are close to best you'll get for Windows.

* If your work PC takes an eternity to boot up every time, it is possible that your IT department is delivering a mangle of Group Policy Objects. Booting, establishing a domain connection and analysing GPOs should take less than two minutes -- add time if a Windows patch or a software policy update needs to apply. On average, assume two minutes.

If two minutes is too long for you, put Windows in suspend mode for a month so that fixes rolled out by the IT department accumulate. Don't be surprised if the first reboot after 30 days takes a while... Take a long lunch.

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xyz

Hold up....

...is that green rug in the picture, Microsoft's engineers' idea of a tree? We're doomed.

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