Microsoft airs plans for more sustainable data centres ahead of COP26

27 Oct 2021

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The tech giant plans to reduce water use in its data centres by 95pc by 2024. To achieve this, it said it will continue to invest in R&D.

One of the world’s largest tech corporations, Microsoft, has ramped up plans to make its data centres more sustainable ahead of the UN’s Climate Change Conference, COP26.

In a blogpost published by the company’s corporate VP for cloud operations and innovations, Noelle Walsh, Microsoft said its goal was to be carbon negative by 2030. It aims to reach net zero by 2050.

Future Human

To achieve this aim, Walsh acknowledged that “data centres must be part of the solution for broad decarbonisation.”

The company said it was “pursuing breakthrough technologies to inspire multi-dimensional thinking” about how it incorporates sustainability into the design and operation of its future data centres.

What all this means is Microsoft is planning to make its data centres less environmentally taxing. It plans to reduce its water use in the centres’ day-to-day operations by 95pc by 2024.

To achieve this, the company has adopted a new approach to temperature management at its data centres, which will further reduce the amount of water used in its evaporative cooled data centres globally by an estimated 5.7bn litres annually.

Through its research on server performance in warmer temperatures, the company has been able to create higher baseline temperatures inside the data centres, also known as set points, for a variety of different climates.

This project is expected to be fully implemented by 2024 and, according to Walsh, it has the “potential to eliminate water use for cooling in regions like Amsterdam, Dublin, Virginia and Chicago, while reducing water use in desert regions like Arizona by as much as 60pc”.

The company is also continuing its R&D around waterless cooling options and liquid immersion cooling. Earlier this year, it became one of the first cloud providers to run two-phase liquid immersion cooling technology in a production environment, demonstrating viability for broader use in data centres.

Its latest research in liquid cooling may also help the company construct more densely packed servers in smaller spaces, meaning increased capacity per square foot in a data centre, leading to smaller data centres in the future.

Microsoft also is exploring new, low-carbon materials for building these data centres. The company partnered with Carbon Leadership Forum to release a study, ‘Transformative Carbon-Storing Materials’ on alternative options like mycelium (mushroom) structural tubes, which can help reduce carbon emissions and change the climate profile of building constructions.

The company is not going to ignore increased global demand for data centres, however. According to Walsh, Microsoft was on track to build “between 50 and 100 new data centres every year in response to customer demand.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com