Commercial, Energy Efficiency, Energy Procurement, Industrial  -  September 27, 2017

Microsoft to build world's 1st gas data center

At a Seattle data center, Microsoft Corp. is piloting a new, advanced energy project in which it has connected natural gas pipelines to racks that are fully powered by integrated fuel cells instead of traditional electrical gear. 

The technology giant said in a Sept. 24 blog post that the project "radically simplifies the process of powering services," and has the potential to nearly double the energy efficiency of data centers while also reducing costs and improving reliability. 

The pilot, designed in partnership with McKinstry and Cummins, feeds into Microsoft's previously announced mission to simplify the data center, which it also refers to as its ambition to "make the datacenter disappear," according to the blog post, authored by Christian Belady, general manager, and Sean James, principal of Microsoft Cloud infrastructure and operations at Microsoft's Advanced Energy Lab in Seattle. The company's previous efforts in this area include increasing its use of renewable energy and research-based improvements to data center design and operation.

Belady and James wrote

This stark and simple design significantly reduces the amount of energy lost in power generation, transmission, and power conversion. Right now, data centers are powered by the electrical grid, which flows from a power plant, through multiple substations and transmission lines, and then must be converted into the right voltage for a data center before we can use it. With fuel cells powered directly from the natural gas line, we cut out all those steps, and remove the energy losses that occur through this long transmission process [...].

According to the post, there are fewer points of failure in the pilot design as there are fewer pieces in the supply chain; the result is improved reliability of power supply and a reduction in costs. On the whole, Microsoft says the process eliminates electrical distribution, power conditioning and backup infrastructure, making the data center easier and less expensive to build, operate and manage. 

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