Posted by Josh Henretig
Director, Environmental Sustainability, Microsoft

Over the weekend, the New York Times began publishing a series that looks at the environmental and local economic impacts of cloud computing. We’ve posted our perspective on these issues on the Global Foundation Services blog. We may not agree with all of the conclusions that the Times reaches, but we appreciate their attention to these important topics.

The impact of the cloud on energy and sustainability are critical issues to all cloud users and providers, and areas in which Microsoft has done a lot of work and shared our best practices for many years.

One area that we believe deserves more attention is how cloud computing—and the data centers that support it—can enable more efficient computing. Modern, state-of-the-art data centers managed by global cloud service providers are operated quite differently than smaller, older data centers managed by corporate IT departments. An op-ed in GreenBiz, authored by EMC chief sustainability officer Kathrin Winkler, contends that “if the automobile industry had gotten efficient as quickly as the IT industry in the last 40 years, we’d be getting 450,000 miles to the gallon.”

Here at Microsoft, we have looked closely at the potential savings when companies transition their business applications like e-mail from their own servers to the cloud. A Microsoft-commissioned study by Accenture and WSP found that large enterprises can cut their energy use per user by at least 30 percent, with small businesses potentially achieving savings of 90 percent. Microsoft’s latest data centers use about 50 percent less energy than those from three years ago, and only 1 to 3 percent of the water used by traditional data centers in the industry.

Microsoft and other large cloud operators are also among the leaders in renewable energy investments. Just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its annual Green Power Leadership awards, naming Microsoft a Green Power Partner of the Year. Microsoft is purchasing more than 1.1 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power annually, making the company the third-largest green power user in the EPA’s Green Power Partnership (GPP) as of July 2012.

As a company, Microsoft remains committed to reducing our footprint across our operations, from our buildings to our data centers. That’s why we instituted a companywide commitment to be carbon neutral starting in fiscal year 2013 (which began on July 1), by establishing an internal carbon fee based on current market pricing for renewable energy and carbon offsets. We will continue to invest in reducing our footprint by increasing energy efficiency and purchasing more renewable energy, while still recognizing that there is more work to be done.

You can learn more about how Microsoft is addressing data center resource requirements including power consumption, water usage and carbon emissions by visiting the GFS Blog. You can also learn about our environmental initiatives on our sustainability blog Software Enabled Earth.