Microsoft offers developer guidance on green software tools

A new white paper and new academic project from Microsoft encourage enterprise green software adoption with open source tools that real developers can use to measure their carbon footprint.

Published on January 10th, this white paper documents a partnership between Microsoft, Swiss bank UBS, and the Green Software Foundation on how to implement two open-source tools for carbon-aware computing: the Software Carbon Intensity Specification to Evaluate Emissions. Provides architectural guidelines for Carbon Aware SDK, which helps developers reduce emissions by running their software using the least carbon-intensive energy source at the optimal time, based on where and when electricity is consumed. This white paper described how an experimental implementation of these utilities was used to assess the carbon footprint of UBS’ risk management application, Advanced Compute Quantum Analytics. This means that UBS’ application workloads have been shifted to less-demanding Azure batch hours from other Azure customers, making them less carbon-intensive to reduce their carbon footprint.

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This type of software optimization has the potential to reduce costs for businesses while combating climate change, said Todd Myers, environmental director at the Washington Policy Center and author of the study. Time to think small: how nimble environmental technologies can solve the planet’s biggest problems.

“If you can get out of peak hours when energy is most carbon-intensive, you’re already saving electricity. You’re already saving money and reducing carbon intensity,” he said.

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Zeus project to train AI through carbon-aware computing tools

Software development has a significant carbon footprint, especially with the growth of AI and cloud computing, said Zhenning Yang, an undergraduate research assistant at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

This has increased the energy consumption and carbon footprint of using GPUs for training deep neural networks. Tools like the Carbon Aware SDK can give developers the information they need to make informed decisions and create more carbon-efficient or greener software, he said.

For example, Yang and colleagues in the SymbioticLab research group at the University of Michigan developed carbon-aware Zeus, an energy-optimized framework for deep neural network (DNN) training, using information provided by the Carbon Aware SDK. Zeus automatically adjusted GPU power limits based on real-time carbon intensity, reducing carbon emissions by 24% during DNN training, Yang said.

These tools have the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of software development and make a meaningful contribution to the fight against climate change.

Yang JenningUndergraduate Research Assistant, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

“These tools have the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of software development and make a meaningful contribution to the fight against climate change,” said Yang.

Carbon-aware data center software will make a difference to global climate change, says Jaewon Jeong, a computer science doctoral student at the University of Michigan.

Jung also participated in the Zeus Project. He said that while the Carbon Aware SDK has been instrumental in Zeus development, there is room for improvement in the documentation and responsiveness of the project.

“But I’d say it’s very easy for any decent developer to use,” said Chung.

Yang echoes Chung’s sentiment that obtaining carbon intensity data from these tools is straightforward for developers. But integrating that data into the software development process may require additional engineering effort, he said. For example, engineers can access the Carbon Aware SDK through a command-line interface, but they can also choose to deploy the Carbon Aware SDK API as a container, either alongside or separately from the application on the cluster.

Green software tools find an enterprise home.

Open source tools are a good first step in making software applications greener, but the priority for enterprise developers will be user experience, then cost, said Jim Douglas, president and CEO of Armory, a continuous delivery SaaS vendor.

How the Carbon Aware SDK interacts with carbon intensity
The Carbon Aware SDK adds carbon measurement to your application.

“If they can tie [carbon-aware tools] It will be introduced into cost optimization without jeopardizing the customer experience, such as the performance, reliability and reliability of the service,” said Douglas. “Otherwise, adoption will be slow.”

Chung said additional efforts to promote and convince developers and product managers, as well as higher up in the chain of command, of the importance of energy efficiency and carbon awareness are key to facilitating change.

“But of course that’s not enough,” he said. “Most software should adopt energy and carbon awareness to make a real difference.”

Even if companies are slow to agree, developers’ hands are not tied, says Marco Santos, Americas CEO of GFT Group, a Germany-based IT consulting firm that mandates green coding certification for all employees. Carbon-aware computing tools enable developers to create more efficient and optimized software, he said.

“Incorrect coding can cause your application to run. [for] 10 hours, then the better way is feasible [for] 5 minutes,” he said.

However, Santos agreed with Chung that tools alone are not enough.

“Tools can guide developers,” he said. “But above all, what we need is a broader approach to educating developers to be more effective and impactful.”

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