In the race to be the first major computing company to build a reliable and ‘totally green' data centre, it appears as though Microsoft might now have a slight advantage over the competition. The company recently announced plans to launch an experimental data centre that also doubles as a green power plant. The facility is scheduled to go online within a month or so.
Microsoft's Sean James recently wrote about the plans on the company's TechNet blog. Among other things, James identified the site of the new data centre as Cheyenne, Wyoming – in the American North-West. The region's low population density and abundance of natural resources makes it a perfect fit.
According to James, all of the data centre’s power and cooling needs will be provided by electricity generated from biogas. For this particular application, municipal waste will be treated to produce methane for the electrical generation. James states that nothing in the cycle will be wasted, including the heat the data centre produces. That heat will be harnessed and returned to the sewage treatment facility to aid in the process of producing more methane. Any excess electricity can be sold back to the grid.
The actual power generation process involves pumping methane directly into fuel cells that produce the electricity. Microsoft plans to run the centre for the next 18 months in order to measure how well the system works. If it is successful, we expect Microsoft to take the centre full-scale shortly thereafter. They might even use it as a model to build additional facilities.
Increasing Power Consumption
As Sean James explained in his blog post, the experimental Microsoft station is about more than just creating green, zero emission energy for data centres. It is about keeping up with the ever-increasing power demand presented by networking communications. That demand continues to grow worldwide.
In the United States alone, power consumption among all data centres equals about 2% of the total energy used throughout the entire country. Experts expect that percentage to only grow as cloud computing and virtualisation become more widespread. What's more, new data centre construction continues to accelerate in order to keep up with worldwide demand.
Common sense dictates that the world's data centres cannot keep pulling more and more electricity off the grid without affecting everything else therefore there is an absolute necessity to develop alternative power sources that will allow data centres to be both self-contained and green. The bonus with the Microsoft site is the real possibility of generating excess power that can be used by other industries or sold for residential applications.
We should note that the Wyoming data centre is not Microsoft's first foray into green energy. The company has also invested heavily in both wind and hydroelectric power generation however the advantages of the biogas project that should be realised during the 18 month testing period could drastically alter where the company puts its future green energy investments. It should be fun to watch.