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Microsoft to reduce water use in greener data centre plan

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On the verge of COP26, Microsoft has announced it’s turning to new tech and R&D to make its data centres more sustainable.

With demand for data and digital services only increasing, Microsoft has said it intends to “build between 50 and 100” new data centres a year – but will be countering the environmental impact of these new facilities with a greener approach to data centre build and operation, the company has said in a new blog.

The blog post, penned by Corporate VP for Cloud Ops and Innovation Noelle Walsh, announced that the company plans to reduce water use in its data centre operations by 95% by 2024 – or about 5.7 billion litres annually. It has several new projects and strategies lined up in order to achieve this.

The first is a new approach to managing temperature within its data centres. Microsoft researched server performance in warmer climates and discovered it could set higher ‘set points’ before evaporative cooling is needed to preserve server performance.

The company aims to implement this new temperature management approach by 2024, and hopes to wholly eliminate water usage for cooling in regions like Amsterdam, Dublin, Virginia and Chicago and reduce usage in desert regions by as much as 60%.

Microsoft is also developing research into new cooling technology, specifically liquid immersion cooling. In the blog, Walsh claimed that earlier this year, it became the first cloud provider to run two-phase liquid immersion cooling technology in a production environment – demonstrating its potential for broader use in data centres. Microsoft anticipates that this new research will pave the way for more densely packed servers in smaller spaces, increasing capacity per square foot.

The blog stated that Microsoft will be doing more to support and work with the “native species, temperatures and weather patterns” of local ecosystems surrounding its data centres, as well as cutting carbon footprint in data centere design and construction. It will be making use of a tool called the ‘Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3)’ to identify low-carbon building materials for its data centres.

Microsoft’s announcement is part of the company’s overall ambitious green goals. According to the blog, “Microsoft’s commitment is to be carbon negative by 2030 and by 2050 remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted, either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.”

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