New Innovations in IT Support Environmental Sustainability in Africa

This week, I’m in Nairobi, Kenya for the United Nations Chief Executive Briefing, where Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, launched the UN’s new energy neutral Nairobi office building. The building is the first of its kind for the UN in Africa and is a global showcase of sustainable design and technology.

We are proud to be part of UNEP’s inspirational goal of supporting forward-thinking and environmentally responsible technology – this goal is shared by the many UN partners and leaders also gathered in Kenya to attend the building’s launch.

Our work with UNEP stems from a public-private partnership that began in 2009, and our contribution to the UN office in Nairobi, which houses the UNEP headquarters began with the design of the building. Extensive consultation and background studies identified information technology and lighting as the highest energy using components and therefore the greatest roadblocks to achieving energy neutrality.

Traditional data centers require expensive air conditioning components that require massive amounts of energy to operate. These components account for up to 90 percent of IT energy consumption. To overcome this, we worked closely with UNEP to see how  green technology, specifically the IT pre-assembled components (ITPAC) data center, could help UNEP support an IT infrastructure that achieves its energy neutrality goals for the building.

This piece of cutting-edge technology illustrates how it is possible to create sustainable 21st century work environments, and is at the center of Microsoft’s green IT strategy. And implementing green IT policies like the highly efficient ITPAC data center is not only ensuring the building’s energy neutrality, but also demonstrating the crucial role that technology can play in environmental sustainability.

The ITPAC technology uses fans to create negative pressure, drawing outside air through the container to cool equipment. As a result, the technology dramatically reduces typical data center carbon footprint and the consumption of materials such as water, concrete, steel, piping and copper, along with the additional carbon footprint associated with the packaging and transporting of servers, equipment and supplies.

We have estimated that with ITPAC data centers, the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio is often cut in half. In addition, the ITPAC’s technology also allows the building to leverage increased IT flexibility and scalability of advanced technologies like cloud computing – unlocking even greater efficiencies and allowing the UN staff in Nairobi to do more with less. Based on research Microsoft conducted with Accenture, we’ve found that the carbon emissions running Microsoft business applications were reduced by more than 30% when hosted in the cloud when compared to being installed on-premise.
In addition to our technology, the new UN building in Nairobi has some other really interesting and innovative features, such as energy saving lighting, energy efficient laptops, natural ventilation systems and 6,000 square meters of solar panels designed to generate as much electricity as its 1,200 occupants consume.

A working building and a research facility, it also serves as a sustainable showcase aiming to motivate others around the world to become part of the transition to a green economy. Moreover, the building is a testimony to the power of public-private partnerships and the potential for innovation through collaboration.

Microsoft applauds UNEP’s vision and commitment to making their energy neutral goal a reality.

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