Microsoft Is Using Big Data to Tackle Environmental Issues


Earth Day (April 22) has emerged as an opportunity for tech companies to voice their support for clean energy, low-waste IT operations and environmentally-friendly policies. This year, Microsoft's new CEO, Satya Nadella, has joined the chorus.

Amid the backdrop of the eco-themed day's festivities, Nadella touted his company's efforts in steering the tech industry toward greener IT pastures. In a letter to the Business Roundtable, an association of U.S. CEOs, Nadella outlined how the software giant is addressing environmental concerns and taking steps to eliminate its carbon footprint.

"Through Microsoft Research, we have teams of computer scientists who are using the power of big data to understand complex environmental challenges in ways they never have before," he wrote.

Sifting through massive stores of scientific data and unearthing new discoveries "can enable scientists and policymakers to take more informed and holistic approaches to addressing environmental challenges from the very local to the truly global level," said Nadella. Key to making short work of big data for climate scientists is the company's massive cloud computing infrastructure.

In recent years, Microsoft has been courting the scientific community by pitching its Azure cloud as a research platform. As part of the company's outreach, Microsoft awards select research projects with free cloud computing time.

Microsoft recently joined rival Google in donating cloud computing resources to the high-profile White House Climate Data Initiative. The software maker pledged 12 free months of Microsoft Azure, which includes up to up to 180,000 hours of cloud computing time and 20TB of storage, for winning proposals.

Nadella said that the tech titan is guided by the belief that "information technology has tremendous potential to help us address environmental challenges and attain a clean-energy future." And it practices what it preaches, he asserted. "We are mindful that environmental stewardship needs to begin in our own operations."

In a move that's reminiscent of IBM's Smarter Cities campaign, Nadella said that his company's CityNext initiative involves working with select cities to improve efficiency. He revealed that Microsoft is working with Seattle (the company is headquartered in nearby Redmond) "to implement a smart building pilot that should lead to energy and operating savings between 10 and 25 percent." In Buenos Aires, his company is optimizing public transportation and exploring ways of driving citizen engagement.

"Around the world, Microsoft is working with customers and partners to create and accelerate cloud-based technology solutions that will enable a more sustainable future," added Nadella.

Microsoft's CEO also revealed that the company had doubled its renewable energy credits to 2.3 billion kilowatt hours, as part of its commitment to carbon neutrality. On the data center front, he highlighted the company's zero-carbon data center pilot program in Wyoming, which derives its power from biogas generated by municipal waste, and the company's research into rack-mounted fuel cells.