The “air-cooled” Azure data centre in Wieringermeer, the Netherlands (Azure region “West Europe”) absorbed a whopping 84 million litres of drinking water last year. That is much more than Microsoft’s stated consumption of 12 to 20 million litres in June last year.
Eighty-four million litres of water is the equivalent of 33 Olympic swimming pools. Microsoft states that drinking water is only used when the outside temperature is over 25 degrees Celcius. A higher temperature was achieved only six days last year. The extreme drinking water usage suggests that water was almost constantly used irrespective of the outside temperature.
Commercially Azure has been an enormous success. Azure sales and market share have steadily increased in the last couple of years. On the non-commercial side, however, dark clouds (pun intended) hang over Microsoft’s Cloud platform.
Next to the environmental impact, six critical security vulnerabilities hit Azure last year. A Critical Vulnerability is where an exploit or proof-of-concept code is publicly available or actively exploited. These six vulnerabilities were described and investigated by Scott Piper, a cloud security specialist and former consultant who’s compiled a lengthy list of the issues on GitHub. The list details vulnerabilities for all the Hyper Clouds: Microsoft’s Azure, Amazon’s AWS and Google’s GCP.
Azure services have had six “critical” vulnerabilities discovered since last summer, compared to two on Amazon’s cloud platform and none on Google Cloud, Piper’s tally shows.
In a good overview from protocol.com, the six vulnerabilities are described. Interestingly, the competing hyper-scale clouds from Amazon (two) and Google (none) do not suffer near as much in critical security vulnerabilities. If someone would force me to guess the cause of these vital flaws: I’d wager that Microsoft mainly focussed on new customers and new platform features, thereby neglecting world-class security. Azure competitors Amazon and Google have either been in the game much longer or (Google) did not suffer from such a surge in demand as Azure did.
What does not help at Microsoft: capacity management and product management have been more ‘demand driven’ than product-driven. Demand-driven capacity management means that a sudden surge in demand would always stress the data centres to provide capacity the centres simply do not have.
It looks like Microsoft is suffering from their stellar growth. Azure struggles to deliver on the service level and security. In addition, Azure’s environmental impact is much higher than under which Microsoft was licensed to operate by the local government. Promising that you are air-cooled and only need 12-20M litres of drinkable water then go and consume 84 million litres sounds not entirely fair and may conflict with their permit. What’s also peculiar: according to the Dutch Datacenter Association, all DCs in the Netherlands combined consume less than 1M litre of drinking water.
Is Google thirsty too?
Meanwhile, Google’s primary data centres for the Netherlands (GCP region ‘Europe-west4’) are located more north: in the Eemshaven area. Google is investing 45 million euros into a water facility that takes water from the nearby canal to be used as cooling for Google data centres and companies local to the facility. Google’s secondary, much smaller, location is also in Wieringermeer. It is situated next to Microsoft’s massive Azure AMS06 data centre. Google’s secondary site also consumes drinking water: unfortunately, Google does not disclose information about the amount of water consumed.
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