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Microsoft Offers Best Practices for Green Data Centers

Earth Day may come and go, but lessons on energy efficiency never seem to go out of style.

Microsoft, for example, is promoting its green data center initiatives and showing organizations like banks how its best practices in earthy-friendliness can apply to their own operations.

The software giant released a paper highlighting some of its internal practices for creating energy efficient data centers that it says can be applied to just about any organization. In it, the company outlines its top 10 practices for developing environmentally sustainable data centers that not only reduce energy consumption and waste, but also cut costs and increase efficiency.

According to Rich Feldmann, U.S. Banking Industry Solutions Director for Microsoft, the company has been working toward achieving sustainable energy practices for some years. “Microsoft has long recognized the challenges of supporting a green data center,” Feldmann told BS&T. “The fact is, being ‘lean and green’ is good for both businesses and the environment, and financial institutions that focus their attentions accordingly will see clear benefits. Reducing energy use and waste improves a company’s bottom line, and increasing the use of recycled materials is a proven way to demonstrate good corporate citizenship to customers, employees, and the communities you do business in.”

As such, he says Microsoft has dedicated itself to helping other companies improve their carbon footprints. He says U.S. data centers are consuming 1.5 percent of power usage effectiveness (PUE). PUE is a metric that determines the energy efficiency of a data center by dividing the amount of power entering a data center by the power used to run the computer infrastructure within it. Microsoft’s goal has been reducing the impact of its operations and products, and hopes to set an example for other businesses, according to Feldmann. The company uses a variety of approaches to improve efficiencies and become more green, including deploying virtualization technologies, consolidating servers and turning on “sleep modes” on unoccupied PCs.

Microsoft recommends the following steps for creating a more earth-friendly data center operation:

  • Provide incentives that support the company’s primary goals, such as compensating data center managers for efficiency, rather than uptime.
  • Focus on effective resource utilization within the data center.
  • Use virtualization to improve server utilization and increase operational efficiency.
  • Drive quality up through compliance.
  • Embrace change management.
  • Invest in understanding your application workload and behavior.
  • Right-size your server platforms to meet your application requirements.
  • Evaluate and test servers for performance, power, and total cost of ownership.
  • Converge on as small a number of stock-keeping units (SKUs) as possible to keep capital costs down, reduce operational expenditures and complexities.
  • Take advantage of competitive bids from multiple manufacturers to foster innovation and reduce costs.

Although it isn’t always easy to apply these best practices, Feldmann says it is still possible. “Planning an energy efficiency program for your data center begins and ends with collaboration across groups in IT,” he explains. “There are real cost-savings to be gained from becoming more green at the data center. It’s also important to focus on mechanical and electrical expenses because since 2004 there’s been a 16 percent increase year-to-year in data center costs.”

Financial institutions have been examining the idea of greening their data centers for at least the last four or five years. However, with the economic crisis and the need to watch every penny, Feldmann thinks there is even more interest in gaining energy efficiency in their data centers.

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