Microsoft Grabs Leadership Positioning in NetworkWorld Article

After 2 days at the National Data Center Energy Efficiency Workshop and Energy Star, I was looking for a way to summarize some of the issues covered for the 150 attendees.  NetworkWorld reported on the workshop, and did the work for me.  So, let me highlight some parts.

Good incentives boost data-center energy efficiency

By Nancy Gohring , IDG News Service , 07/09/2008

A Microsoft executive shared techniques the company has used, including new kinds of employee incentive programs and internally created automation tools, to reduce the energy consumption of its growing data centers.

The methods he described could help other companies that use or operate data centers reduce costs, said experts who also spoke at the data-center efficiency strategy conference put on by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency in Redmond, Washington, on Tuesday.

While there are plenty of technology solutions for improving data-center energy efficiency, not many companies are using them, said Christian Belady, principal power and cooling architect at Microsoft. "It boils down to a behavioral problem, not necessarily a technology problem," he said.

Microsoft decided to change the incentives for workers as a way to encourage them to use the most energy-efficient techniques. Traditionally, the various business groups within the company were charged for using the company's data centers based on the amount of floor space required to stack the servers that their services used. That spurred a drive within the business units to minimize the space they used, often through the use of extremely dense servers. Those servers, however, sucked power and required more cooling, Belady said.

Now, Microsoft charges business units based on the amount of energy consumed by the servers that host their services. "We moved from cost as a function of space to cost being a function of power," he said.

That shift made individual business units conscious of the number of DIMMs (dual in-line memory modules) they had at their disposal, for example. "Now those DIMMs are costing you power, and you're getting a year-over-year chargeback for those DIMMs," he said. Such charges make the business units less likely to require more memory then their services actually need, he said.

Other industry speakers are quoted.

Incentives are also changing at utility companies in ways that can benefit enterprises. "As a facility manager my incentive isn't to sell you more electricity, but to give you the tools to be more efficient," said Francois Rongere, segment supervisor with PG&E's high technology energy-efficiency team. "My bonus is based on how much savings you have done in my territory."

Those energy savings often translate into real money from the utility. Ray Pfeifer, who works with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, was recently involved in a series of experiments with companies to try to quantify how certain changes to their data centers affected energy usage. He said that many of the implementations were 100 percent funded by utilities, which often offer incentives to companies for investments that can cut their energy usage.

While that may be good news to the enterprise, the utility incentives only show how behind the curve businesses are in general, said Brill. "It's appalling to me that we have to have utilities offering incentives to do what's good business sense," he said.

Thanks to Nancy Gohring for writing a good article.