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Microsoft to abandon diesel gensets for data centre back-up power

Fri, 11/16/2012 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

Microsoft is looking to swap diesel gensets for more environmentally-friendly solutions to provide back-up power for its data centres.

On a Microsoft blog dated September 12, data centre architect Brian Janous wrote: “We are currently exploring alternative back-up energy options that would allow us to provide emergency power without the need for diesel generators, which in some cases will mean transitioning to cleaner-burning natural gas and in other cases, eliminating the need for back-up generation altogether.”

The natural gas reference suggests Microsoft could be preparing to implement fuel cells to replace its generators. That could be good news for Bloom Energy, whose fuel cells will replace generators and UPS units at an eBay data centre in Utah. ‘Bloom Boxes’ are also being deployed to provide supplementary power at Apple’s iDataCenter in North Carolina.

Generators have been associated with several headaches for Microsoft’s data centres in recent years, including an Azure cloud outage in Europe, when multiple generators failed during a utility outage, and a public controversy about whether the diesel emissions from Microsoft’s generators in Quincy, Washington could cause health problems for local residents.

Microsoft is also considering “long term purchases from larger grid-connected installations that would displace some portion of our grid purchases,” Janous wrote. Google uses power purchasing agreements to add more than 200 MW of wind power to the local utility grids that support its data centres.

“Given the unreliability of the electric grid and the need for continuous availability of cloud services, Microsoft maintains diesel generator backup at all of our data centres, as is typical across the industry,” Janous continued. “These generators are inefficient and costly to operate. From both an environmental and a cost standpoint, it makes no sense to run our generators more than we absolutely must.”