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Microsoft enviro chief: Software integral to clean tech

Microsoft's chief environmental strategist says efficiency in desktops and servers is just the beginning of what software can do in the energy business.

Microsoft's chief environmental strategist, Robert Bernard, spoke publicly for one of the first times this week, giving some insight into Microsoft's "green" strategy.

Bernard was named to the position about four months ago after working with Microsoft for 10 years on partnerships with other IT companies.

While other IT companies have launched "green IT" initiatives, Microsoft has been relatively quiet.

Robert Bernard ZDNet

For example, IBM's Big Green Innovations, launched last year, is focused on data center energy efficiency but also includes consulting activities, such as advising companies on how to reduce carbon emissions within their supply chain.

During a session at the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco, Bernard indicated that reducing energy consumption of software in the industry overall is one of his primary objectives.

He said that between 3 percent and 5 percent of energy consumption comes from software and that Microsoft is looking to work with its partners, notably hardware providers, to address the other 95 percent. (See a video of his talk at ZDNet.)

Windows Vista has power-management features that will automatically take a computer that's not being used from consuming over 100 watts to 3 watts to 5 watts within 10 to 30 minutes, Bernard said.

"Most people perceive that when they are running a screensaver, they are using less energy. The reality is they are still using between 100 and 250 watts to power that screensaver," he said.

In corporate data centers, energy consumption has become a significant concern for corporations because of rising electricity costs. Businesses are also increasingly trying to measure and reduce their carbon footprint.

Windows Server 2008, which was launched on Wednesday of this week, has embedded intelligence to match a given workload with the appropriate amount of energy.

"I don't need a Ferrari to get across San Francisco," Bernard said. The energy-management in Windows Server allows it to operate more like a Prius.

Consolidating servers, often through virtualization, is also a major push at many corporations, which lowers electricity use.

Software plays a crucial role in managing the energy grid as well, particularly as distributed forms of power generation are added to existing centralized power plants.

"Imagine if you have (a huge increase in) micro generation and the existing macro generation. The software required to manage that system and tie it to us as individuals is massively complicated," Bernard said.

Speaking to investors and entrepreneurs, he said that a software infrastructure to integrate their inventions into existing energy networks needs to be created.