Microsoft has released a lengthy whitepaper describing ten practices for green data centers, mostly based on efficiently matching workloads to hardware. Unsurprisingly, the paper encourages the use of virtualization as enabled by Microsoft technologies like Hyper-V and Microsoft’s Azure cloud operating system. The techniques Microsoft describes may not strike operators as novel or groundbreaking, since the paper's authors admit that they’ve been in place for some time. Still, they report that Microsoft has successfully used the techniques in-house: “Microsoft has followed the practices below for several years now and found that in addition to helping protect the environment, they lead to optimal use of resources and help teams stay aligned with core strategies and goals." Microsoft also followed Facebook’s lead and provided Power Utilization Efficiency (PUE) numbers for its data centers: on average, the company’s 2011 PUE was 1.40 across all of its cloud infrastructure properties, compared with an estimated industry average of 2.0. “Our goal by the end of 2012 is to construct new data centers that average 1.125 PUE and use 30–50 percent less energy than traditional industry data centers,” read the report. Below, we’ve briefly summarized Microsoft’s strategies. 1.) Incentivize workers. Microsoft says it provides incentives to data-center managers for both uptime and energy efficiency. The company also announced an internal carbon fee in May, which could reduce energy use. Microsoft’s goal is to be completely carbon neutral in 2013. 2.) Efficiently use existing infrastructure. Microsoft argues that there’s no need to construct additional data centers if what's already there isn’t being properly utilized. Investments in chillers, transformers, and UPSes are fixed costs, whether used or not. 3.) Virtualization. Microsoft makes a pitch for its own technologies, but also notes that servers can use a significant amount of power (50 percent of peak load, the company claims) even at idle. Using VMs to max out server capacity makes sense in terms of per-cost and per-watt measurements. 4.) Compliance. Microsoft utilizes a compliance framework that tracks its audit requirements and maps these obligations against its operational control activities. Quality and compliance are tightly linked. 5.) Change management. Like many corporations, Microsoft has developed procedures for planning and implementing upgrades and other changes in the production environment. One key point of advice: implement post-mortems in order to determine what went right or wrong, even when the change itself went smoothly. 6.) Understand your own workload. Data center operators need to understand their own needs (or, if they host servers for third-party clients) the needs of their customers. These needs must be passed on to the vendors. “If you don’t start with efficient servers, you’re just going to pass inefficiencies down the line,” the paper notes. 7.) Right-size your hardware. Not every data center operator can participate in the Open Compute initiative, where vendors and companies such as Facebook can custom-design an optimized server rack. Instead, the paper advises just a bit of common sense: buy only what you truly need. 8.) Test, test, test. A company with the resources of Microsoft can afford to bring in all “short-listed” servers for tests that focus on performance per watt. Smaller organizations should use SPECpower_ssj2008, a SPEC benchmark that evaluates power and performance. 9.) Standardize. Microsoft refreshes its servers every 12 to 18 months. Complexity equals cost, and buying in volume (even servers) can result in discounts. 10.) Competition is good. Naturally, vendors competing against each other can result in cost savings to the data center operator. Microsoft also recommended that data center operators seek to use renewable sources of energy and reduce waste, recycling where possible. The paper was authored by Microsoft’s Global Foundation Group, along with Dr. Dileep Bhandarkar, Pete Boden, Mark Estberg, Vijay Gill, Brian Janous, and Kushagra Vaid, Microsoft said.   Image: Adriano Castelli /