Microsoft Helping Utilities Prepare For The Future

Microsoft has been working with utilities organizations on energy efficient projects for some time, but these efforts have moved slowly because of the conservative nature of these organizations. However, the urgency with which energy related stimulus projects will be pursued have awakened utilities to the technological challenges they face, and they're looking for recommendations.

The coming spike in demand for energy, coupled with the growth of stimulus fueled infrastructure projects, is going to create unprecedented amounts of data, and Microsoft believes its data warehousing technologies are tailor-made for crunching the data and delivering actionable information to customers, said Jon Arnold, managing director of Microsoft's worldwide power and utilities industry division.

When it comes to smart power grids, Microsoft prefers to focus on the "energy ecosystem" as a whole. The goal is to weave intelligence into the entire energy value chain, from the generation of power, to transmission, distribution, and metering, and all the way into the home, said Arnold.

"It's all about smarter systems and better communication and more information for analysis," Arnold said.

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Utilities have access to huge amounts of data, but they've traditionally found it difficult to turn it into useful information. As the volume of data continues to rise, more utilities are deploying smart metering technology, and business intelligence provides the heavy lifting behind the scenes, according to Arnold.

"With sensors, there is a lot of data you need to turn into information, and you'll typically see SQL Server throughout the value chain," Arnold said.

Microsoft also provides a platform that allow utilities to look at data streams and discern what's important and not, which is known as complex event processing. By capturing data from system-level, application-level and external events and translating them into patterns, complex event processing gives utilities better insight into what's happening on their networks.

Osisoft, a multinational firm headquartered in San Leandro, Calif., last month began using Microsoft's Complex Event Processing technology in its PI System, which gathers operational event data for large enterprises in the manufacturing, energy, utilities, life sciences, data centers and process industries.

Microsoft is also working to improve energy efficiency in buildings and data centers. For buildings, that process begins on the design side by talking with traditional companies that use CAD and Autodesk, says Kim Nelson, executive director for e-government and director of government solutions at Microsoft. On the operations side, Microsoft emphasizes how technologies like unified communications can be embedded into building construction in order to make it easier to hold more virtual meetings, Nelson said.

Microsoft has for the past few years been working to increase the energy efficiency of its data centers by locating these facilities in places with cool climates, like Ireland, as well as near sources of hydroelectric power. These efforts have given Microsoft a depth of expertise that has customers turning to the software giant for advice on how to approach them issues themselves, according to Nelson.

"The expertise Microsoft has built in the area of data center energy efficiency means that more and more customers are coming to us to help them update their data centers," Nelson said.