Microsoft Bids to Cut Water in Data Centers

In order to boost efficiency and lower setup time, Microsoft’s latest data centers have turned to modular solutions.

Microsoft is working to reduce its data-center water use to nearly zero.

Specifically, the company said it’s in the midst of developing air-cooled data centers that use roughly 230,000 gallons of water annually—with the “waste” reentering the environment as clean water vapor instead of wastewater. Compare that to the 2.46 million gallons of wastewater produced annually by the typical data center, which must be pumped offsite and treated.

“Water has traditionally been used in data center cooling systems,” Brian Janous, a utility architect with Microsoft, wrote in the blog post. “However, our latest air-cooled data centers in Iowa, Ireland, Virginia, and Washington are designed to use 1-3 percent of the water required for a traditional data center, and the only water loss in these new systems is through evaporation, resulting in no waste water.”

He added: “These innovations in Microsoft data center efficiency evolution have served as a model to help others in the industry achieve similar reductions in power and water usage in their latest designs.”

Although Microsoft isn’t a member of organizations such as the Open Compute Project, the company does publish advice for making data centers more efficient. Microsoft emphasizes virtualization as the key to efficiently delivering 200 online services to over a billion customers and 20 million businesses in over 76 markets worldwide.

Microsoft also revealed that it has moved ahead in improving its Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) since the company built out its first data center in 1989. From 1989 through 2005, Microsoft has used co-located data centers, averaging about a 2.0 PUE. In 2007, Microsoft migrated to its second generation of data centers, with rack-based solutions that emphasized density. PUEs ranged from 1.4 to 1.6. In 2008, Microsoft’s third generation of data centers began moving to a container model, pushing scalability, sustainability, and beginning to minimize air and water use; Microsoft signed differentiated SLAs, the company said. PUEs dropped further, to between 1.2 and 1.5.

Finally, Microsoft’s latest data centers have turned to modular solutions, which rely on the ITPAC (IT Pre-Assembled Components) solution the company began talking about last year. Those solutions can be brought faster to market, and use outside air for cooling. The PUEs here have dropped to an impressive 1.05, ranging up to 1.15, Microsoft said.

Microsoft also said it’s evaluating more sustainable solutions to supply power to its data centers via both onsite generation and long term purchases from larger grid-connected installations, the latter of which would displace some portion of its grid purchases. Nearly all of the electricity consumed by Microsoft data centers is supplied from a local power grid.

“We are currently exploring alternative backup energy options that would allow us to provide emergency power without the need for diesel generators, which in some cases will mean transitioning to cleaner-burning natural gas and in other cases, eliminating the need for back-up generation altogether,” Janous wrote.

 

Image: Microsoft video

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