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How Microsoft Cloud Solutions Drive Operational Efficiencies and Sustainability​

Empowering Sustainability Through Efficient Computing: Microsoft's Initiatives and Energy-Saving Strategies

Across industries and geographies, growing numbers of organizations are looking to boost operational efficiencies and advance their progress towards sustainability. Interest in sustainable computing is being driven by many forces, including growing regulatory scrutiny of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and greater consumer interest in understanding the environmental footprint of the businesses they buy from. Sustainability initiatives have many benefits, including decreasing resource consumption and waste – which, in turn, can lower operating costs – while helping to create a healthier world and brighter future for our planet.

If your company maintains its own data center, or simply operates on-premises hardware, you’re probably aware that these systems use a great deal of energy. But you may not have thought about the fact that IT, networking and communications technologies currently consume between five and nine percent of the world’s total electricity output. That percentage is forecast to more than double within the next decade. You also may not have considered how technology modernization can create efficiencies that will reduce your organization’s environmental footprint, while saving money and improving software and hardware performance.

However, software developers and technology companies have been investigating ways to increase the energy efficiency of IT systems and reduce the environmental impact of their operations. Here’s how these efforts can benefit your organization.

Microsoft’s sustainability pledge

More than 3,500 global companies – including technology companies – have issued sustainability pledges. Not only is leading public cloud and enterprise software provider Microsoft among them, but Microsoft has committed to helping its customers, partners and suppliers accelerate their own progress towards sustainability. 

Microsoft announced its sustainability commitments in 2020, when it also published detailed plans for how it is preparing to meet them. Among other things, Microsoft has committed to becoming:

  • Carbon negative by 2030, and able to remove all carbon emissions it has created since its founding by 2050.
  • Zero waste across its direct footprint by 2030.
  • Water positive (replenishing more water than it uses) by 2030.
  • Able to protect and preserve more land than it uses by 2030.

Microsoft’s sustainability initiatives include investments in carbon removal (the company has acquired and recycled more than 2.5 million tons of carbon from a variety of sources), and active water replenishment. Microsoft has treated more than 1.3 million volumetric cubic meters of water in active replenishment projects. In addition, by adopting a more circular strategy for materials management, Microsoft has been able to keep 15,000 metric tons of waste out of landfills.

Key aspects of Microsoft’s commitment to sustainability are apparent in how it’s powering its data centers. In 2021, for instance, Microsoft was the world’s second largest corporate buyer of renewable energy through power purchase agreements (PPAs). These agreements entail a long-term commitment to purchasing clean energy that helps expand the market for green power and bring new renewable energy generation online.

Microsoft is also leading the way to greener data center operations by demonstrating how data centers can reduce power consumption and emissions and even contribute energy back to the grid. In Finland, waste heat from two new Microsoft data centers contributes to a district heating system that provides warmth to more than 250,000 people in winter. And in Sweden, Microsoft data centers user rainwater and outside air to cool servers, and recycle the heat they produce to keep employee work areas warm in wintertime.

In addition, Microsoft is helping its customers accelerate their own journeys towards sustainability by offering Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability solutions, which enable Microsoft Azure users to gain visibility into their energy consumption, so that they can better track and report on the environmental impact of their IT systems and operational processes. Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability makes it possible to collect data on your organization’s environmental impact in a single, centralized place. With this information in hand – along with access to dashboards where you can visualize your energy consumption and emissions – it’s easier to make targeted investments and careful progress towards your ESG goals.

Energy-efficient coding, software design, infrastructures

Sustainable computing researchers and software developers are partnering to investigate the energy impact of different development practices. They’ve discovered, for instance, that code written in different languages can use vastly different amounts of energy to run. In one study, researchers discovered that programs written in Python can use as much as 59 times as much energy as those written in C. Developers might not be surprised to hear this, since Python is infamous for running slowly. However, the researchers also found that different languages can be more (or less) efficient for different use cases. It’s also possible to build things like machine learning models – which are commonly written in Python – so that they have a smaller carbon footprint.

In many cases, simply moving an application to the cloud can make it greener (and more sustainable to run). One simple way that this is true is that public cloud providers take advantage of the latest innovations in hardware design within their data centers. Whereas older data center hardware is inherently more inefficient than the newer hardware, cloud customers benefit from knowing that their software will be running on energy-efficient modern infrastructure, yet they don’t have to worry about paying for ongoing updates to their on-premises systems.

Modernizing software so that it can take advantage of cloud-native capabilities can further reduce its energy footprint. Running multiple virtual machines on a single server takes less energy (per virtual machine) than running just one operating system on that server. By definition, virtualization enables a single piece of hardware to function as if it were multiple independent systems, which inherently makes more efficient use of resources. Cloud-native solutions like containers and serverless functions are more efficient still, since their use avoids wasting idle CPU time and enables more cloud customers to share the same resources. Event-driven computing architectures, in which functions execute only when they’re needed, are not only greener, but they’re also less expensive, since cloud customers need to pay only for the actual compute time and resources used, not for entire servers or virtual machines that sit idle for much of the time.

When it comes to cloud computing, the good news is that customers don’t have to choose between cost savings and energy efficiency. Modern cloud-native applications are friendlier to both your budget and our planet.

To learn more about how Netrix is helping our customers modernize their applications and IT infrastructures so that they’re more efficient, visit us at