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Microsoft’s latest eco-push: recycling data centre servers with the help of AI

Written by Wed 5 Aug 2020

Electrical waste

Microsoft to use AI to recycle data centre hardware 

Microsoft’s “green summer” just got even greener after the tech giant announced yet another ambitious environmental goal and a roadmap about how it plans to achieve it.

The 45-year-old tech company’s latest pledge is to eliminate waste from its direct operations, products and packaging by 2030.

In a blog post, Microsoft President Brad Smith said the company recognised “the urgent need to protect the world’s ecosystems and reduce the carbon emissions that come from the creation, distribution and disposal of waste”.

To achieve this goal Microsoft plans to recycle used hardware from its data centres, eliminate single-use plastics and improve waste accounting using smart technology. It will also invest in Closed Loop Partners’ funds and enlist Microsoft employees to reduce their waste footprints.

“Microsoft will reduce nearly as much waste as we generate while reusing, repurposing or recycling our solid, compost, electronics, construction and demolition, and hazardous wastes,” added Smith.

Green summer

Microsoft has been on somewhat of a green crusade since the beginning of the year, when it launched an eco-initiative focusing on carbon, water, ecosystems and waste, including a marquee pledge to become carbon negative by 2030.

In recent weeks the company released a flurry of blog posts to put meat on the bones of that and other pledges, including a seven-stage plan involving steps to remove diesel backup power from its data centres by 2030.

Data centres are going to play a similarly pivotal role in Microsoft’s zero-waste commitment.

The three million servers and related hardware that power Microsoft’s sprawling data centre footprint have an average lifespan of just five years, at which point they are decommissioned and typically sent to landfills or incineration. Contributing, said Smith, “to the world’s growing e-waste problem”.

Microsoft will build new recycling centres, dubbed Circular Centers, adjacent to its major data centres to repurpose and recycle used hardware. The centres will be rolled out on new campuses and “eventually added to existing ones”, said Smith.

Microsoft will use AI to process servers and hardware that are being decommissioned and divvy them up: sending some to be repurposed internally, allocating others to its customers for reuse, and selling the rest.

The learnings from hardware disassembly and reassembly will also allow the company to improve the efficiency of its design process and supply chains, said Smith.

A Microsoft Circular Center pilot in Amsterdam reduced data centre downtime and increased the amount of server and network parts available for internal reuse and supplier buy-back.

It also reduced the cost of transporting and shipping servers and hardware to processing facilities, which lowered carbon emissions.

“We expect the Microsoft Circular Centers to increase the reuse of our servers and components by up to 90 percent by 2025,” Smith claimed.

Plastics

The data centre’s involvement in Microsoft’s zero-waste commitment doesn’t end there.

As part of its efforts to eliminate plastic waste from its packaging, Microsoft said its data centre assets will no longer be packaged with single-use plastics by 2025.

“Zero waste is an ambitious goal, but minimizing our own waste footprint is essential to preserving the natural resources and reducing waste-associated carbon emissions to ensure our economies and societies around the world thrive for generations to come,” said Smith.

Written by Wed 5 Aug 2020

Tags:

circular economy hardware sustainability
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