Data centers are consuming increasing amounts of the world’s electricity as they are notoriously energy-hungry networks of high-powered computers. To help make the industry climate efficient, Microsoft Corporation, Accenture Plc, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are joining forces with nonprofits like the Linux Foundation and other climate groups to develop and share ways to build software that produces fewer carbon emissions when run in data centers.
The Green Software Foundation, whose founders also include GitHub, which is a Microsoft-owned software-maker, and software consultancy ThoughtWorks, is planning to build instruments and design standards for measuring the climate impact of software. The Foundation will also work on training for software engineers who want to go green and learn how to build programs that consume less energy. Currently, data centers account for about 1% of global electricity demand, and forecasts suggest that will rise to 3% to 8% in the next decade, the companies said in a statement Tuesday, timed to Microsoft’s Build developers conference.
As software applications grow more complex and processing-intensive, calls for greater awareness of their carbon footprint are being made as they require more computing power and electricity. Cloud-computing companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have announced plans for reducing the emissions output of their data centers and many companies have announced goals involving carbon neutrality. To get there, software developers are going to have to learn a new skill: green software engineering.
“The purpose is to build applications that we describe as carbon-efficient,” Asim Hussain, a Microsoft principal cloud developer advocate who will serve as executive director of the foundation, said in an interview, according to Bloomberg. “To understand how to do that, you need to understand a set of skills that is not taught in traditional environments.”
While it is not possible yet to determine exactly how much carbon is emitted by individual software programs, metrics are being examined by groups like the Green Software Foundation. Metrics such as whether microprocessors are being used efficiently, how much electricity is needed, and the carbon emitted in networking.
The foundation plans to look at curricula and develop certifications that would give engineers who study the field expertise in this space. As with areas like cybersecurity and data science, there will be an opportunity for engineers to specialize in green software development, but Jeff Sandquist, a Microsoft vice president for developer relations, said that everyone who builds software will need at least some background in it.
“This will be the responsibility of everybody on the development team, much like when we look at security, or performance or reliability,” he said. “Building the application in a sustainable way is going to matter.”