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Microsoft Builds a Green Campus to Save Costs and Reduce Carbon Footprint

Published: April 2010

The following content may no longer reflect Microsoft’s current position or infrastructure. This content should be viewed as reference documentation only, to inform IT business decisions within your own company or organization.

Microsoft incorporated environmental sustainability into the construction and operation of an expanded campus in China. The project is expected to provide a return on investment in terms of cost savings, cost avoidance, and strategic value.


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Products & Technologies

Microsoft planned to expand its facilities in Shanghai, China, beginning in late 2007. It needed to incorporate sustainable building requirements and cost savings into the campus.

Microsoft IT worked with other Microsoft teams to build and run a green campus in Shanghai. The teams focused on deriving benefits from the following elements of the campus: offices, data center, labs, desktop and laptop computers, virtual collaboration.

  • Reduced electricity consumption of up to 47 million kWh
  • Total cost avoidance of about $1.6 million
  • Total cost savings of about $663,000
  • Reduction of about 14.6 kg of CO2 emissions
  • Windows Server 2008
  • Windows Vista Hyper-V
  • Microsoft System Center
  • Virtual Machine Manager


To accommodate business growth, Microsoft reserved about 66,000 square meters of land and planned to build four new buildings at the Zi Zhu campus, Shanghai, China. The buildings would accommodate about 7000–8000 people. Microsoft saw this project as an opportunity to create a "green campus" of four buildings—one that would save costs and reduce environmental impact. Microsoft incorporated environmental sustainability into all phases of development: design, procurement, provisioning, construction, and ongoing operations. Construction on the project started in September 2007, and occupancy of the new buildings began in June 2009.

Microsoft Information Technology (Microsoft IT) worked with the Real Estate & Facilities (RE&F) team and other business units across Microsoft to set goals and complete the project. Microsoft IT expects the Zi Zhu campus to save 47 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, which is equivalent to powering 4,700 homes for a year.

With the experiences gained from this project, Microsoft IT can share practical examples and best practices with organizations that want to incorporate environmental sustainability into office construction. This paper is intended for business decision makers and IT executives who want to embrace an environmentally sustainable approach to IT operations.


Business growth can create environmental challenges for any organization. The Zi Zhu campus includes the following elements, each of which presents an opportunity to improve environmental sustainability:

  • Offices
  • Data center
  • Labs
  • Desktop and laptop computers
  • Meetings and other types of collaboration

Microsoft has developed best practices and policies for reducing the environmental impact of its facilities, including the construction and operation of energy-efficient data centers. The Microsoft IT and RE&F teams fully adopted these best practices to expand the Zi Zhu campus. For more information, refer the article "Microsoft's Top 10 Business Practices for Environmentally Sustainable Data Centers" at http://www.microsoft.com/environment/our_commitment/articles/datacenter_bp.aspx.


The Zi Zhu campus features a direct digital control (DDC) building management system (BMS) that consists of a central monitoring system, actuators, sensors, and transmitters. The BMS monitors and controls the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, power supply system, lighting system, and utility systems to maintain optimal power conditions in each building and save energy. The BMS also has uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and backup power to minimize the risk of power outages. The following sections describe the components of the BMS and the other elements that make the campus environmentally sustainable.


A passive optical system redirects daylight deep into the workspace while eliminating all direct sunlight on work surfaces. It has been integrated into the building fenestration design to provide uniform ambient lighting so that electric lights to be turned off or dimmed. It is mounted inside, directly adjacent to the daylight window glazing, to protect it from the weather. It can pivot to enable easy cleaning of the windows.


The ventilation system for the buildings is demand-controlled ventilation. Sensors measure the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the buildings. Based on those readings, the system adjusts outside ventilation air based on the number of occupants and the ventilation demands that those occupants create.


Water-side economizers and air-side economizers provide cooling for buildings. The water-side economizers automatically use outside air to cool chilled water when the temperature of external air falls below a certain threshold and turn off the main chiller tower to save energy. Meanwhile, the air-side economizers bring outside air directly into the data center and labs. This system will yield significant energy savings and reduce carbon footprint in mild seasons. Microsoft IT estimates that air-side free cooling alone will save 3,684,603 kWh of electricity, or about $316,000 US in total costs, yearly.

To further save the energy used for cooling, the buildings use thermal ice storage: Off-peak electricity produces ice for cooling during peak hours. Microsoft IT estimates that thermal ice storage will save about $29,000 per year in energy costs. Variable-frequency drives (VFDs) and variable primary flow (VPF) are effective tools that a facility manager can use to reduce energy use. VFDs match system output to load requirements by slowing HVAC drive components. Slowing a motor to match a decreased load reduces a motor’s energy requirements, thus saving costs.

Microsoft implemented VFDs and VPF in the following ways:

  • Variable primary pumping. The primary pumps and chillers are configured in a headered arrangement to provide the flexibility of operating any pump with any chiller.
  • Chiller with VFDs. The chilled water system can efficiently operate over varying part load conditions. A small chiller with VFDs responds to the impact that varying cooling loads has on the chilled water system supply and returns the temperature difference.
  • VFD for cooling-tower fans. The fan of the cooling tower with VFDs can be adjusted according the temperature of the returned cooling water.


In winter, the buildings use a ground-source heat pump (GSHP) to heat the office. GSHPs are electrically powered systems that tap stored energy from the ground. They use the relatively constant temperature of the earth to provide heating and cooling.


Traditionally, metal trays accommodate cables in horizontal and vertical cable routes. The Zi Zhu campus instead uses open baskets, which are lighter than cable trays. The baskets reduce the load on each floor, and they save a significant amount of material. Because the length of all the trunk cable trays equals nearly 4 kilometers (km) and the length of all the branch cable trays equals nearly 8 km, Microsoft IT estimates that the baskets reduce the total load by roughly 14.4 tons.

Figure 1 shows…


Figure 1. Configuration of cable baskets

Power Management

Server racks in IT and lab rooms contain metered rack power distribution units (PDUs) from third-party vendors. Through these power meters, IT managers and lab managers can analyze the power load and efficiency of each rack to fine-tune the power supply and achieve further energy efficiency.

Virtual Machines

Microsoft IT faces the same issues that many IT organizations face: Data centers and labs reach space and power-consumption capacity rapidly, while many servers run at very low utilization. To address these issues, Microsoft IT encourages all the lab managers to do the following:

  • Upgrade the operating system in labs to Windows Server® 2008 because tests revealed that Windows Server 2008 out of the box (OOB) achieved power savings of up to 10 percent over Windows Server 2003 OOB at comparable levels of throughput.
  • Actively adopt Hyper-V™ virtualization technology to reduce the number of physical servers, maximize the existing investment, reduce the hardware and maintenance cost of new servers, and reduce the load of power and cooling facilities in labs and data centers.
  • Use Microsoft® System Center Virtual Machine Manager to deploy, manage, and monitor thousands of virtual machines and hosts to ensure that they can meet the needs of the corresponding business groups.

Adopting virtualization provides immediate benefits in terms of reducing energy usage, lowering emissions of greenhouse gases, and reducing costs for the company. Table 1 demonstrates the difference in power consumption between physical machines and virtual machines.

Table 1. Power Consumption Comparison (Physical vs. Virtual)

Server setup

Processing load

Average watts

Projected power consumption (kWh per year)

Internet Information Services (IIS) 7.0 × 1 stand-alone

20 active clients



Hyper-V IIS 7.0 × 4 virtual machines

20 active clients per server that is running IIS



Hyper-V IIS 7.0 × 10 virtual machines

20 active clients per server that is running IIS



Comparing the stand-alone IIS configuration to the Hyper-V configurations reveals that virtualization can provide significant power savings. A physical server consumes 517.6 watts on average while running four virtua machines running IIS, just 3.5 percent more power than it uses when configured as a stand-alone IIS machine. If multiple virtual machines can run on a single physical machine without consuming significantly more power than a stand-alone server while keeping comparable throughput, Microsoft IT can add virtual machines at essentially no power cost, as dictated by hardware and performance needs. The savings continue to scale with the number of servers that Microsoft IT can virtualize. Running four virtual machines means saving the equivalent power output of three physical servers; running 10 virtual machines means saving the equivalent power output of nine physical servers.

Table 2 shows the practical effect of expanding data centers and labs by adding virtual capacity, compared to physical capacity. The difference adds up to millions of dollars a year at current electricity rates.

Table 2. Adding Physical Capacity vs. Adding Virtual Capacity

Business unit

Before virtualization

After virtualization


Number of servers

kWh per year

Number of servers

kWh per year

Server & Tools





Windows Live China





Customer Service and Support






Total power savings per year in kWh

Dollar savings in power ($0.1083 per kWh)

Reduction in CO2 emissions (0.778 kg CO2 per kWh)

Equivalent number of homes to power (2,832 kWh per home per year)

Total ROI


US$ 2929136



Desktop and Laptop Computers

The Windows Vista® operating system features significant changes to power management infrastructure, functionality, and default settings of the Windows® operating system. These changes affect how computers running Windows Vista consume energy.

When employees leave the office, they may not turn off their computers. Computers that remain turned on when not in use continue to consume power. This waste of energy has direct financial and environmental impacts. The standardization of Windows Vista on desktop and laptop computers at the Zi Zhu campus—and across Microsoft—takes advantage of the low-power "sleep" feature to manage energy efficiency.

Microsoft IT based its values for the amount of energy that a typical desktop computer and display consume on a 2002 study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Table 3 contains the mean values for Intel Pentium 4 computers and for 17-inch CRT and LCD displays.

Table 3. Power Usage for Desktop PCs (Watts) Based on Berkeley Lab Data





Mean of Pentium 4 computers




Mean of 17-inch CRT monitors




Mean of 17-inch LCD monitors




The study measured power consumption in both the idle state and the low-power sleep state. The idle state was characterized as:

  • An idle Windows-based desktop on a running, but otherwise quiescent system
  • No software running other than the operating system
  • Display on (not blank)

To project potential energy savings, Microsoft IT compared a computer left running constantly with a computer running 10 hours a day, five days a week, and otherwise using the sleep feature in Windows Vista while not in use. Microsoft IT used the following formula:

(Idle Power Draw – Sleep Power Draw) x 6,160 nonuse hours =
Annual Savings

Table 4 outlines the estimated energy savings of using the sleep feature versus leaving a computer on constantly, based on Microsoft IT calculations.

Table 4. Energy Savings for a Desktop Computer (kWh)


Power draw per year (idle)

Power draw per year (sleep)

Savings per year (sleep vs. idle)

Typical Pentium 4 computer with 17-inch CRT




Typical Pentium 4 computer with 17-inch LCD




Because most of the Microsoft Shanghai employees use LCD rather CRT monitors, and each employee has at least two computers on average (for a total of 3,500 computers), Microsoft IT estimates the total ROI of power management at roughly 2 million kWh, and more than $226,000, per year. It also estimates an elimination of more than 1,627,000 kg of CO2 emissions, per year.

Virtual Collaboration

In 2007, Microsoft employees traveled more than 1 billion miles for business, which equates to almost 14,000 miles per person. Microsoft IT offers many technologies and tools to reduce travel by enabling productive teaming and collaboration.

For the Zi Zhu campus, Microsoft IT is driving awareness and increasing adoption of technologies such as Microsoft Office Communicator, Microsoft Office Live Meeting, and unified communications (UC) telephony. These technologies increase collaboration across geographical boundaries (virtual collaboration) and reduce the need for employees to travel for face-to-face meetings.

Microsoft IT estimates that virtual collaboration will eliminate 172.8 tons of CO2 every year at the Zi Zhu campus.

Policies, Processes, and People

Microsoft IT believes that technology alone will not provide the benefits of a green campus. To complement technology such as computer power management and tools for virtual meetings, Microsoft IT defines clear policies, implements streamlined processes, and educates employees about their responsibilities. For example, office policies for the Zi Zhu campus include double-sided printing to save paper, and a recycling program. Processes include an approval process for printing in color, which is more resource intensive than printing in black-and-white. Microsoft IT also conducts a training program called Work Smart, which educates employees on how they can limit their environmental impact.


By bearing "green" in mind when building the Shanghai Zi Zhu campus, Microsoft expects to achieve benefits in terms of cost efficacy, working environment, employee productivity, and employee satisfaction, in addition to environmental sustainability. The ROI of the project falls into three categories:

  • Cost savings. This can be due to implementing a more energy-efficient measure without any initial investment or with some initial investment. However, ongoing savings can surpass the initial investment in a certain period. Examples include economical printing (no initial investment), air cooling (some initial investment, which can be justified by ongoing cost savings), and computer power management (some initial investment, also justified by ongoing cost savings).
  • Cost avoidance. Implementing a new technology or a new process might significantly affect the business's budget by saving unnecessary costs from being incurred. Examples include power cost avoidance by using virtualization in labs, and increased productivity—and decreased travel expenses—by using virtual collaboration technology.
  • Strategic value. A small number of investments may raise operational costs to some extent, but their positive impact to the working environment or public environment make them worthwhile. These "soft" returns on investment include improving employee health and job satisfaction, and reducing the carbon footprint of Microsoft operations. An example is encouraging employees recycle paper and other supplies.

Table 5 summarizes the projected ROI across categories for elements of the Zi Zhu campus.

Table 5. Overall Return on Investment


Cost avoidance per year

Cost savings per year

Reduction of CO2 emissions (kg)


Not applicable



Data center

Not applicable





Not applicable


Desktop and laptop computers

Not applicable



Virtual collaboration


Not applicable







By using teamwork and Microsoft best practices, Microsoft IT helped create a green campus in Shanghai. Microsoft IT anticipates that the campus will provide a total cost savings and cost avoidance of about $2.25 million per year, and will reduce CO2 emissions by about 14,621 tons per year.

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products or services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada information Centre at (800) 563-9048. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information via the World Wide Web, go to:




© 2010 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

This document is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY. Microsoft, Hyper-V, Windows, Windows Server, and Windows Vista are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

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