Microsoft defends data center energy practices

On Monday, The New York Times posted an article on its website that was highly critical of Microsoft's use of power for a data center based in Quincy, Washington. Now Microsoft has responded to the article with a more detailed post on its Global Foundation Services blog.

The blog post, written by Microsoft's Brian Janous, the company's Utility Architect for Data Center Advanced Development, at first responses to an earlier story posted on the NYT website, which claims that data centers from Microsoft, as well as other companies, waste a large amount of energy in general. The article said, "Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid."

In response, Janous states:

While the article identifies the key issues of efficiency and utilization, it conflates these two key but distinct challenges, wrongly implying that underutilization of servers in data centers equates to unneeded consumption of massive amounts of energy.  In doing so the article fails to recognize that not all data centers are created equal, nor are the operations and software applications running inside those data centers equally utilized.

Janous then comments on the second article published by the NYT, which claims Microsoft used lots of electrical power at a data center in Quincy, Washington simply to avoid paying a fine to the local power utility. Janous states, "The article uses what we believe are a few isolated situations to paint a negative picture of the relationship between big data center operators, including Microsoft, and the local community."

He adds:

One section of the article implies that Microsoft has run its diesel backup generators in excess of what is required to provide safe, reliable power to our data centers. We would respectfully disagree. Diesel generators are a costly alternative to grid-supplied power. The cost to run generators is several times higher than power purchased from the grid. And that doesn't account for the costs associated with purchasing, installing, and maintaining the generators.

Janous also says that Microsoft is looking for more and better ways to power its data centers, saying that two of its facilities in other locations are either built or being designed without any backup generators.

Source: Microsoft Global Foundation Services blog | Image via Microsoft

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17 Comments

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Tuishimi said,
And MS should have to respond because...?

They wasted power to evade a fine. Done by a corp that has loads of money. Cheap-ass move, but noting that will be remembered in a week or so.

Buio said,

They wasted power to evade a fine. Done by a corp that has loads of money. Cheap-ass move, but noting that will be remembered in a week or so.

Shouldn't we be concerned that there is a fine in place for a Company that doesn't waste energy? Microsoft did what they felt was cheaper, so we should complaining that the power company was making it cheaper to waste power.

Buio said,

They wasted power to evade a fine. Done by a corp that has loads of money. Cheap-ass move, but noting that will be remembered in a week or so.

I applaud Microsoft's move. Just because you have money doesn't mean you should allow a company to steamroll you like that... Business is full of nonsense like this.

TheChucklesStart said,

Shouldn't we be concerned that there is a fine in place for a Company that doesn't waste energy?

I've worked in a major power generator before, so I'm qualified to answer this for you. And the reason? Washington, like where I'm from, has a deregulated electricity market. That means you buy and sell electricity - and thus, you have to submit bids for how much you're going to use or sell.

Guess what happens when you don't take or provide how much you said?

The market has to either sell the electricity really cheaply (in hopes it can find someone to take it), or in the latter case, it has to buy it really expensively from neighboring markets.

Now, I'm sure you can see the problem: if nobody took/sold what they bid, the market wouldn't be balanced (and supply HAS to equal demand, or the grid frequency will start to change, destabalizing the power grid). The fines are set so we don't have another 2003-type blackout scenario.

TheChucklesStart said,
Shouldn't we be concerned that there is a fine in place for a Company that doesn't waste energy? Microsoft did what they felt was cheaper, so we should complaining that the power company was making it cheaper to waste power.

It's wasn't a fine - it was a contractual charge due to Microsoft's miscalculation of their energy usage.

why can't these hippies that say crap like this go after the real polluters like chemical plants and real eco enemies like monsanto that really do harm to the ecosystem???

remixedcat said,
why can't these hippies that say crap like this go after the real polluters like chemical plants and real eco enemies like monsanto that really do harm to the ecosystem???

My personal opinion (not backed by fact) is they go after well-known companies so the media are more likely to pick up the story. Getting upset about "Acme Chemicals Inc" isn't nearly as catchy a story titled "E$$O putting profits before the environment" for example.

jamieakers said,

My personal opinion (not backed by fact) is they go after well-known companies so the media are more likely to pick up the story. Getting upset about "Acme Chemicals Inc" isn't nearly as catchy a story titled "E$$O putting profits before the environment" for example.

people's energies are being focused in the wrong areas.... sucks....

remixedcat said,
why can't these hippies that say crap like this go after the real polluters like chemical plants and real eco enemies like monsanto that really do harm to the ecosystem???
To be honest, if something could be done to change the way this industry is doing business, we could save a lot of power. Running data centers at 90% makes no sense when there's no demand

Rudy said,
To be honest, if something could be done to change the way this industry is doing business, we could save a lot of power. Running data centers at 90% makes no sense when there's no demand
Virtualization is doing a lot towards that effort. ESX for example will power down a host if it can migrate guests to another system, and if the load on one remains high for a period of time (default in 4.1 was 15 minutes), then it will turn a host back on and load balance to that host.
The nice thing is that it is very agressive to take a system down (5 minutes below threshold), but very lax to bring one back up (15 minutes above threshold) to try and save more energy.

jamieakers said,

My personal opinion (not backed by fact) is they go after well-known companies so the media are more likely to pick up the story. Getting upset about "Acme Chemicals Inc" isn't nearly as catchy a story titled "E$$O putting profits before the environment" for example.


This has long been my belief as well...

remixedcat said,
why can't these hippies that say crap like this go after the real polluters like chemical plants and real eco enemies like monsanto that really do harm to the ecosystem???

Well they do go after them. I can see why environmentalists are upset, but I am on Microsoft's side on this one. We should be annoyed with the power company, not MS.

cybertimber2008 said,
Virtualization is doing a lot towards that effort. ESX for example will power down a host if it can migrate guests to another system, and if the load on one remains high for a period of time (default in 4.1 was 15 minutes), then it will turn a host back on and load balance to that host.
The nice thing is that it is very agressive to take a system down (5 minutes below threshold), but very lax to bring one back up (15 minutes above threshold) to try and save more energy.

Hyper-V does this too

remixedcat said,
why can't these hippies that say crap like this go after the real polluters like chemical plants and real eco enemies like monsanto that really do harm to the ecosystem???

Caring about energy usage and the environment isn't a "hippy" issue - it's a human issue. If Microsoft and other companies are wasting dramatic amounts of energy through inefficient practices then that SHOULD be exposed, just as the practices of chemical companies should. This isn't an either/or situation.

The reality is that there are plenty of articles exposing the practices of companies like Monsanto but you're not likely to read about them on a tech site.

theyarecomingforyou said,

Caring about energy usage and the environment isn't a "hippy" issue - it's a human issue. If Microsoft and other companies are wasting dramatic amounts of energy through inefficient practices then that SHOULD be exposed, just as the practices of chemical companies should. This isn't an either/or situation.

The reality is that there are plenty of articles exposing the practices of companies like Monsanto but you're not likely to read about them on a tech site.

those real polluters get fined less then these tech companies though....