Published 04 Aug 2020

Few will deny the benefits that cloud computing has brought to businesses, especially since the pandemic has mandated working at home on an unprecedented scale and made cloud-based productivity suites like Office 365 invaluable. Organisations can also easily scale up their operations with cloud computing without the need to purchase additional equipment and install it on site.

That said, this unfortunately comes at a price in terms of the sheer energy required by the data centres that drive these cloud-computing platforms. Amid concerns about global warming, many tech firms are increasingly looking to renewable energy sources to power their facilities. For its part, Microsoft has pledged to become carbon negative by 2030 and ultimately erase its historical carbon emissions by 2050.

Renewable power can be intermittent, however, while uptime is critical for a data centre, which is why Microsoft uses backup batteries for momentary power outages and diesel generators for longer power cuts. Fortunately, the latter, despite their high cost, are rarely used, as expressed by Mark Monroe, an infrastructure engineer at Microsoft:

“We don’t use the diesel generators very much. We start them up once a month to make sure they run and give them a load test once a year to make sure we can transfer load to them correctly, but on average they cover a power outage less than one time per year.”

Now Microsoft has found a potential replacement after successfully powering a row of data centre servers with hydrogen fuel cells for 48 hours. The chief environmental officer at Microsoft, Lucas Joppa, pointed out that hydrogen is the universe’s most common element. Joppa, who represents Microsoft on the Hydrogen Council, said about the use of hydrogen and the council’s role:

“We know how to do it. The council exists because we don’t necessarily know how to scale the generation of hydrogen, transportation of hydrogen, supply of hydrogen and then consumption of it in the various ways that we would like to.”

It is believed that excess solar and wind power could be used to power an electrolyser to produce hydrogen, which could then be stored and used later to power a backup generator when needed. In addition, given that it will be rarely needed for the data centre, this generator could also be used to help balance the energy grid, or excess green hydrogen could be collected by hydrogen-fuelled tankers for use in other areas, such as the freight and industrial sectors.

Microsoft’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral and trialling new technologies demonstrates that cloud computing is not only valuable—it can also be sustainable. If you feel you can benefit from migrating some services to the cloud, we at Pro-Networks can help choose the right solution from the various managed cloud services available. Whether you need a private or public cloud, or some combination thereof, we can tailor our services to suit your needs.


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