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Microsoft gives a glimpse of a greener cloud

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Microsoft has revealed more information on the datacentre efficiency tricks it employs to power its Bing search and web mail services.

As firms such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon drive the adoption of cloud services, the datacentre has become a key battleground – not least because the IT industry comes under scrutiny from environmental campaigners concerned over rampant energy consumption.

“Increasing datacentre efficiency will make the cloud cost-effective for more scenarios and extend the benefits of online computing to many more aspects of human life,” says Aman Kansal, a researcher at Microsoft. 

Kansal told an audience at Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Pennsylvania State University that the firm was able to make dramatic efficiency gains by moving from a traditional hot-aisle, cold-aisle set-up to containerised modules.

According to Kansal, Microsoft cut the PUE rating for its Bing and Hotmail datacentres from 2.0 to just 1.05 in 2011. PUE – or power usage effectiveness – is a measure of datacentre efficiency that is calculated by dividing the total datacentre power usage by the power used by IT equipment.

By locking hardware in to containers, Microsoft has been able to reduce the amount of power it needs to cool its infrastructure, allowing some servers to run hotter, while targeting the cooling to where it is needed most.

But when it comes to energy use, PUE only tells half the story – of course it is better for cloud services to put more of the energy it consumes in to running the IT infrastructure, but it's even better if the IT infrastructure is energy efficient.

By studying the energy consumption needed by applications such as search or webmail hosting, Microsoft has been able to tune its servers to fit the power requirements of its applications, Kansal reported. It has been drilling down into power consumption of individual hardware components as well as software containers such as virtual machines and software processes.

There's still a long way to go before cloud firms eco-boasts will be completely believable, but Kansal's work gives a glimpse of where the industry leaders are going.

06 Feb 2013

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