Inspirational Green: Microsoft’s Rob Bernard at Data Center Dynamics – Seattle

Rob Bernard knows green. As the Chief Environmental Strategist at Microsoft he walks the talk of reducing our carbon footprint, and evangelizing the impact of our actions on both the environment and quality of life. Our quality of life, and the quality of life others on the planet wish to enjoy.

Our Commitment

At Microsoft we are committed to software and technology innovations that help people and organizations around the world improve the environment. Our goal is to reduce the impact of our operations and products, and to be a leader in environmental responsibility.

(From Rob Bernard’s presentation at Data Center Dynamics, 6 Aug 09, Bellevue, WA)

Rob told the story of his first week at Microsoft. In their Redmond campus, Microsoft provided logo Styrofoam coffee cups to both visitors and employees. Lots of cups. Almost two million Styrofoam cups a year ended up in the trash.

Immediately prior to joining Microsoft, Rob had taken his family on a short trip to Oregon, where he stopped for a coffee break, and noticed the barrister provided him a paper coffee cup that included a printed notice the cup would bio-degrade within 30 days of use. Dust to dust. And about the same price as the Styrofoam cups. Those environmentally unfriendly landfilling non-biodegradable Styrofoam coffee cups.

Needless to say, Microsoft is now using biodegradable coffee cups, made from recycled paper stock.

The Green Telephone

Rob gave another example of simple things we can do. Oddly, he was not evangelizing Microsoft products, but rather talking to us as one planet resident to another planet resident. He gave the example of telephones, computers, and video. Most of us have a telephone plugged into the wall at home, next to a desktop or personal computer, in the same room as a television set.

Rob simply explained that he has now unplugged the telephone and television, and uses all three services off a lower power draw “Energy Star” computer. No more need to burn electricity to power redundant utilities within the house.

Microsoft Carbon Production

Microsoft is not perfect. In fact Rob noted as a company they had produced more than 936,000 tons of carbon in 2008. This is considered a grossly unsatisfactory condition for a company such as Microsoft, which employs some of the greatest minds in the world. Now Microsoft is on a corporate search and destroy mission to seek out and eliminate waste. Not only internally, but also to provide the lessons learned in the quest to reduce their negative impact on the planet to everybody. Kind of “open source” green.

Part of the philosophy is to lead by example, within the Microsoft campus, and stress to employees that everything learned at campus may be transferrable to their personal lives and homes.

Act with Transparency, Let Employees Inspire

  • Understand your impact
  • Share and borrow best practice
  • Employees lead by example
    • Compostable dishware
    • Connector Bus (employee transportation from home or “park and rides”)
    • Kitchen Grease (contribute to bio-deisel)
  • Help individuals drive change
  • Support employee engagement
  • Measure, measure, measure

(From Rob Bernard’s presentation at Data Center Dynamics, 6 Aug 09, Bellevue, WA)

He actually believes, evangelizes, and strongly urges Microsoft employees to live the talk.

The Data Center Challenge

Rob advised the delegates the US Government is preparing to study the potential of taxing data center operators who consume too much utility power. He went on to urge data center operators to aggressively attack the existing inefficiencies of data center designs, and start a structured approach to rethink, rebuild, and redesign our approach to data centers.

Do you use blanking panels to reduce inter-cabinet hot air recirculation? Are you working on consolidating individual applications into server-based applications? Do you really understand the implications of running high powered computer and server systems which only use 5~10% of their CPU and disk capacity? When possible, do you insist on buying and deploying “Energy Star” equipment, for, well,… for everything?

One problem many data center operators have is they really don’t even know how much energy their data center, much less individual components of the data center, is actually using. As much as we’ve seen it in the news, most data center operators have not even attempted to calculate their Power Utilization Efficiency (PUE) rating or factor. That is the equation that shows how much power you consume for support services in the data center vs. actual power being applied to IT equipment and operations.

Bottom line is how do we fix problems when we have not even audited our equipment and power consumption? We’ve got to get smart. A data center drawing 10 megawatts of power is producing a creepy amount of carbon, so we better start taking it seriously. And oh yeah, the government is going to eventually regulate our industry (since some data centers consume nearly as much energy as the city of Fresno), and penalize those data center operators who cannot prove their efficient use of power.

Consider the Cloud

It is here. It is working. It helps consolidate inefficient data centers into efficient data centers, eliminating much of the unused processing and storage capacity we insist on burning our limited CAPEX to fund. If we can bring our cloud utilization up to 80% through virtualization of existing stand alone server systems, well – we will recover considerable operational and capital expenses by eliminating hardware that consumes electricity, space, and costs a lot to purchase.

Smaller companies can gain even larger benefit by outsourcing their processing and storage to commercial cloud Infrastructure and Software as a service (IaaS/SaaS) providers, eliminating their need to operate a data center – period.

Rob Sells the Audience

Throughout his presentation the audience remained silent, fixed on his words. It is easy to listen to a man who not only knows his material cold, but also projects an enthusiasm which reaches into the soul of everybody present. And those who were squeezing into the back of the room to hear more of his ideas, stories, and visions of a greener future.

I am sold, as were a couple hundred other conference participants. I want to be green, and will not only try to bring more conscientious effort to my personal life, but also become a micro-evangelist in my company. And a macro-evangelist to my industry.

Rob’s website is


John Savageau, Long Beach

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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