Reducing Energy Use with Windows Azure

| Josh Henretig

cloudsWhat do you get when you move two of the Microsoft Developer Division’s largest developer and IT professional websites from on-premises infrastructure to the cloud? Well, in addition to a major learning exercise that’s invaluable for the migration of other applications, we’ve seen increased resource utilization, energy savings and reduced operational costs.

As part of Microsoft’s Developer Division, the Microsoft Enabling Platform Experience (EPX) runs the popular Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) and TechNet websites. Both of these sites have consistently high rates of traffic and experience significant traffic spikes during Microsoft product launches, trainings and conferences. Originally, both of these sites were built to run on on-premises hardware, which required a substantial investment in additional servers to accommodate the sites’ traffic spikes. But these extra servers were underutilized when the sites experienced normal traffic, which led to wasted power. That’s because underutilized servers still consume up to 60 percent as much power as those in use. To maintain high utilization levels and save energy in the on-premises environment, servers would have to be turned off and on in response to demand, which is an inefficient use of capital assets.

Microsoft sees information technology as a key tool that can help address energy and environmental challenges. According to the IT Energy Efficiency Imperative, which we first highlighted in a whitepaper published in June 2011, increasing server utilization offers the biggest potential for improving IT energy efficiency in data centers. Cloud-based applications can grow or shrink in response to demand, which means they use resources more efficiently and are less expensive to operation. That is why Microsoft chose to move some of the MSDN and TechNet websites’ front ends to Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform.

After migrating the MSDN and TechNet website front ends to the cloud, the EPX group now has a hybrid cloud solution, with the website data remaining on-premises and the front ends hosted in Azure. This first phase of the migration reduced operational costs. Next, to optimize higher utilization, the group used the Microsoft Enterprise Library Autoscaling Application Block to enable automatic scaling behavior. Overall, the EPX group has increased its average CPU utilization from 20 percent to a minimum of 60 percent. This increase has only been possible because of the fundamental nature of cloud computing: unlike a dedicated sever infrastructure where capacity is sized for peak demand, in the cloud there is more capacity available at relatively short notice should demand increase.

At Microsoft, we’re focused on minimizing our carbon footprint. Using hosted solutions that support dynamic resource scaling is just one way we have reduced our energy use and indirect carbon emissions. We look forward to using the knowledge and experience we gained while migrating MSDN and TechNet to move many of our web sites and applications to Windows Azure in the future.

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