Microsoft CIO and CES Lead Environmental Sustainability Efforts
Published: June 2010
Microsoft Chief Information Officer (CIO) Tony Scott and Microsoft Chief Environmental Strategist (CES) Rob Bernard work in partnership to achieve Microsoft’s environmental sustainability objectives. Goals include a reduction in overall electricity consumption, improved utilization of IT equipment and technology solutions, and the development of more efficient products.
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With more than 8,800 production servers, thousands of non-production servers, and 272,000 IT-managed computers in 648 buildings across 106 countries, Microsoft is faced with soaring energy costs. From a cost standpoint and also from an environmental responsibility standpoint, Microsoft must consider ways to reduce energy consumption and its environmental footprint. This article discusses the close partnership that Tony Scott and Rob Bernard created to achieve Microsoft’s sustainability goals.
Partnership Between the CIO and the CES
Tony Scott and Rob Bernard started in their current roles at Microsoft at about the same time in 2008. Rob had already been at Microsoft for over a decade. Tony had been the CIO for the Walt Disney Company. So there was a marriage of sorts between an old-line Microsoft approach and a fresh perspective. When Tony came to Microsoft, he was happy to discover that sustainability was already deeply embedded in the consciousness of the organization and that the role of the CES already existed. Much of the strategic framework was already in place, so he did not have to start fresh.
Microsoft has three broad and interrelated sustainability goals:
- Drive significant energy improvements in and through the use of IT.
- Accelerate scientific research across a broad array of subject areas related to energy and the environment.
- Demonstrate environmentally responsible leadership.
To accomplish these goals, MSIT created a team to manage sustainability efforts. MSIT identified an executive sponsor who is responsible for the three-to-five-year plan. The executive sponsor also makes sure that MSIT focuses on its commitments. A program lead manages the overall programs and is responsible for the success of the program’s progress and strategic direction. MSIT also assembled a virtual team of subject matter experts. This team is made up of individuals who have current sustainability commitments. The virtual team reports on progress and discusses road blocks and risks associated with current commitments. Finally, MSIT established the MSIT Environmental Sustainability Advisory Board. The Advisory Board is composed of senior IT leaders who contribute thought leadership to the long-term sustainability plans and goals. The Advisory Board also includes cross-group members from the Microsoft Environmental Sustainability corporate team, and the Procurement, Real Estate and Facilities, and Global Foundation Services teams. The Board ensures that MSIT bridges the gaps between business needs and environmental goals.
Measuring Energy Consumption
The IT industry generates 2 percent of the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases. This is equivalent to the greenhouse gases that the airline industry emits. But for varying reasons, few CIOs know how much they spend on energy. This information is hard to obtain in many companies because the meter on IT tasks is far removed from the actual point of consumption, and it is grouped together with many other items. If CIOs do not know how much energy they use, they may have difficulty creating the behavioral change that precedes implementation. Therefore, it is important for CIOs to work with their facilities, organizations, and the energy companies to get an accurate measurement of what their organizations are consuming.
MSIT gathered information on energy consumption throughout the organization and identified major commitment areas. MSIT then set targets for those commitment areas. These commitments and targets formed the basis for the Green IT Plan.
Improved Efficiencies in Computer Labs
MSIT found that Microsoft computer labs were using an inordinate amount of energy. The labs occupied less than 10 percent of the Redmond office space, but they were responsible for more than 50 percent of energy consumption at Microsoft. Tony's team decided to rethink the labs. The goal was to create an energy efficient but responsive environment. In 2009, Microsoft opened Redmond Ridge, the first purpose-built facility for research and development at Microsoft. The Redmond Ridge facility takes the whole ecosystem into account, and it will revolutionize the way that Microsoft and its customers operate.
Redmond Ridge consolidates development and test servers from the Redmond campus into remote, managed labs. Engineers can use the Redmond Ridge labs to create a virtual machine on energy-efficient equipment in an energy-efficient environment. This system is like a library where engineers can check capacity in and out. They can use the machine for the time that they need it and then make it available for someone else.
The Redmond Ridge facility is built to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Standard. With an estimated Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio of 1.24 (typical is 2.4 or greater), running servers in the Redmond Ridge research lab uses about 28 percent less energy than running them on campus. This is because there is no chiller plant. Air handler units in Redmond Ridge use free air cooling for more than 95 percent of the year. The facility pulls fresh air from the outside and then dumps it back out. The Seattle area saw much warmer weather than usual during the 2009 summer, but the Redmond Ridge facility performed extremely well. In fact, it remained the most energy efficient of all the datacenters at Microsoft.
Reducing power consumption will also reduce Microsoft’s carbon footprint. With each megawatt of server usage moved from the Redmond campus to Redmond Ridge, Microsoft avoids emitting approximately 613 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year into the atmosphere. When loaded to full capacity, Microsoft expects the facility to deliver an estimated carbon savings of 12,000 metric tons per year. And because the closed evaporative cooling system loses less than 1 percent to evaporation per year, water consumption has significantly decreased.
Microsoft employees make extensive use of Unified Communications (UC) technologies. First and foremost among these technologies are Microsoft® Office Communicator and Microsoft Office Live Meeting. All mobile computers at Microsoft come equipped with UC-certified webcams, array mikes, and speakers, so any employee with a laptop or notebook can use Office Communicator or Office Live Meeting to quickly set up and hold conferences with other Microsoft employees anywhere in the world. Employees find that these products accelerate the decision-making process. Employees can have multiple meetings in the time that it takes to travel halfway around the world.
MSIT is also experimenting with new voice and video technologies. MSIT is currently deploying 10 state-of-the-art "telepresence" rooms. MSIT Telepresence is an immersive experience and is unlike conference calling or other virtual meeting solutions. Using telepresence, employees can have virtual meetings that look, sound, and feel as if their colleagues from around the world are just across the table. MSIT did a study to see where employees traveled most often to determine where to locate the telepresence rooms. By locating the rooms in Beijing, Hyderabad, Paris, Singapore, Reading (UK), Silicon Valley, and Redmond, Microsoft is able to achieve the greatest savings and the greatest reduction in carbon emissions.
Microsoft also uses several other voice and video technologies, such as the Microsoft RoundTable® communications and archival system. RoundTable is an advanced conference phone with a built-in 360-degree camera. It follows the conversation in a meeting room by identifying the active speaker.
Microsoft employees have also increased their use of small, high-definition webcams. For example, when Microsoft recently opened a retail store in Scottsdale, Arizona, Tony wanted to expose the store to a broad MSIT audience. A team member put a high-definition webcam on a laptop and took MSIT on a virtual tour of the store. It would have been prohibitively expensive to fly all those Microsoft employees to experience the store in person.
Microsoft recognizes multiple benefits from all of these technologies: reduction of costs, reduced impact on the environment, and greatly increased productivity. MSIT estimates that employees who adopt UC technologies save 30 minutes per day, and in about one year, Microsoft reduced per-capita travel across the company by more than 20 percent.
Reduction of Hardware Power Consumption
MSIT has strategies in place to reduce power consumption on both client and server hardware.
For client hardware, one of the ways that Microsoft controls power consumption is through the menu of computers that are available to employees. Purchasing a new computer from an MSIT-approved vendor helps ensure that computers are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Microsoft requires that all computers purchased through the standard MSIT channels meet Energy Star 5.0 requirements. Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This program helps protect the environment by certifying energy-efficient products and practices.
MSIT also requires that all new computers are registered with the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) program. The EPEAT program evaluates desktop computers, laptops, and monitors based on 51 environmental criteria. All EPEAT-registered computers have reduced levels of toxic metals like cadmium, lead, and mercury. They are also more energy efficient, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, they are easier to upgrade and recycle. In fact, manufacturers must offer environmentally responsible recycling options for all EPEAT-registered products.
Microsoft also uses computer power settings to reduce the power consumption of client hardware. MSIT determined that only 10 percent of the tasks at Microsoft require full CPU performance. As a result, MSIT buys and delivers each computer at Microsoft with the power option set to the Balanced plan. The Balanced plan offers full performance while a computer is in use but saves power during periods of inactivity by putting the computer to sleep. MSIT customizes the settings of the Balanced plan so that the screen sleeps after five minutes of inactivity; the CPU sleeps after 30 minutes. It is a natural tendency to want to run a computer at its highest performance level, so many employees reset the power plan to High Performance. As an interim solution, MSIT periodically uses preferences in Windows Server® 2008 R2 Group Policy to reset power options to the Balanced setting on a company-wide basis. Resetting the power option results in annual savings of more than $1.8 million US.
For a longer-term solution, MSIT is rolling out Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager R3 to manage client power consumption. System Center Configuration Manager R3 offers new ways to gain a better understanding of end user behavior. It also offers new opportunities to bring more power efficiency to client computers.
MSIT found that more than 30 percent of the hardware in Microsoft datacenters was unnecessary. MSIT uses a "cash for clunkers" type of program to remove unwanted server inventory and either retire servers at the end of their useful lives or turn the low-value physical hardware into high-performance servers running Hyper-V™. MSIT eventually expects to be 50 percent virtualized across MSIT’s managed server environment, with an overall reduction of 10 percent in the physical footprint.
Maintaining a Paperless Office
MSIT found that employees leave approximately 35 percent of their print jobs in the copy rooms. This is a significant waste of paper and toner, and it results in unnecessary emissions of carbon dioxide.
MSIT offers the following tips to employees to reduce the use of paper overall:
- Share documents electronically; print only when necessary.
- Always use double-sided printing. This is the default setting on all digital Microsoft printers.
- Use black and white instead of color.
- Always use the public, multifunction printers. Private printers result in hidden fiscal and environmental costs, including increased support costs, energy consumption, and carbon dioxide emissions. Private printers also create unnecessary paper, cartridge, and toner waste.
- For confidential print jobs, use the Secure Print function instead of using a private printer. Secure Print enables employees to send a job to a specific printer. The print job is encrypted and stored until an employee releases it by using a personal identification number (PIN).
MSIT is also exploring "Print and Hold" as a general policy. Like the Secure Print function, the print job is not released until an employee goes to the printer. This helps reduce the number of print jobs that are never picked up.
Management of Electronic Waste
MSIT has a one-in, one-out policy. Each time a computer is purchased to replace an existing computer, an old computer must be retired and recycled. Microsoft policy requires that all broken and retired hardware in the United States is sent to Microsoft Technology Recycling (MTR). MTR helps protect Microsoft intellectual property and ensures that hardware is handled in an environmentally sound manner. Retired hardware that cannot be sold or reused is reduced to the parts and base materials and Microsoft does not allow the electronic waste to be discarded in a landfill.
Microsoft pays approximately $1 million per year in asset taxes for unused computers, so MSIT is improving the asset management process to locate and remove computers that are no longer in use. Microsoft also hosts several collation events in Redmond each year to gather old hardware.
Validation of ES Benefits Through First & Best Program
MSIT has a long history of testing Microsoft products through its First & Best program. MSIT requires that each First & Best program has a sustainability objective. The goal is to ensure that MSIT and the product groups incorporate environmentally friendly best practices into the products before release to manufacturing (RTM). The First & Best program gives MSIT the opportunity to validate that Microsoft products do not use energy unnecessarily and that Microsoft products allow computers to go to sleep when they are idle.
Obstacles on the Path to Environmental Sustainability
There are many myths in the computer industry and breaking old myths is difficult in some organizations. For example, one myth is that computers should not be turned on and off on a daily basis because it can damage the electronics. This may have been true at one time, but it is definitely not the case now. In addition, users today have other choices besides on or off. For example, users can choose from the various power plans and specify settings for sleep and resume.
Another myth is the "double double rule." When determining capacity, engineers often make the most reasonable estimate that they can and then double that expectation. Then they double it again to provide a capacity or resource cushion. That may have been a reasonable practice at one time, but it is not necessary today. With virtualization, the cloud infrastructure, and other available tools, the "double double rule" does not apply.
Behavioral issues are also a big obstacle. For example, many people still use screen savers. Using a screen saver is an old paradigm and can actually prevent a screen and CPU from going to sleep, so MSIT recommends that employees disable screen savers or use a blank screen.
Tony and Rob recognize that technology and cultural change must come together. The tools for energy-efficient savings exist today, and they will continue to improve, but there is only so much that an organization can do until behavior changes.
Employee Education and Awareness
To raise employee awareness, MSIT created a Work Smart Environmental Sustainability guide, which is available on MSIT’s internal Web site and also at: http://download.microsoft.com/download/D/1/6/D166A85A-7AB5-4912-97C6-97A6ADC6FD63/0602EnvironmentalSustainabilityGSWSG%20XT.docx. The guide discusses the various ways that employees can save energy and be more environmentally conscious. Topics include:
- Computer procurement policies
- Recycling policies for hardware and peripherals
- Maintenance of a paperless office
- Ways to use the various UC tools
- Instructions for changing settings for computer power consumption
To showcase the technologies and programs that the company uses, Microsoft also makes information available externally at http://www.microsoft.com/environment/.
Environmental sustainability is a large and complex area for organizations. The Microsoft CIO and CES agree that the solution starts with a strategic framework. Their collaboration has helped Microsoft make tremendous progress in this important area.
Many tools are available in the IT toolbox today to reduce power consumption and reduce an organization’s environmental footprint. The tools include virtualization, cloud infrastructure, and UC technologies. Organizations should also consider improved building design to achieve sustainability goals. Employee education and awareness is an important part of the equation to create the cultural awareness and behavioral change.
Microsoft continues to demonstrate leadership on sustainability issues for the IT industry. In addition to significantly reducing its own power consumption, Microsoft is in a unique position to influence other organizations as it learns about what customers are doing, incorporates those industry best practices into its own solutions, and then shares that information with the industry.
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