Microsoft offers developer guidance on green software tools

A new white paper from Microsoft and emerging academic projects will encourage enterprise adoption of green software, with open source tools that real-world developers can use to measure carbon footprints.

The white paper, released January 10, documented the partnership between Microsoft, the Swiss bank UBS and the Green Software Foundation to provide architectural guidance on how to apply two open source tools for carbon-aware computing: specification of carbon intensity software, which assesses emissions. according to where and when electricity is consumed, and Carbon Aware SDK, which helps developers run software to use the least-carbon-intensive energy sources at the optimal time to reduce emissions. The white paper describes how an experimental implementation of this utility is used to assess the carbon footprint of Advanced Compute Quantum Analytics, a risk management application from UBS. This means that UBS application workloads are transferred to Azure batch processing times with lower demand from other Azure customers, thus reducing their carbon intensity, to reduce their carbon emissions.

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This type of software optimization has the potential to save companies money when tackling climate change, said Todd Myers, environmental director at the Washington Policy Center and author It’s Time to Think Small: How Nimble Environmental Technologies Can Solve the Planet’s Biggest Problems.

“If you can move from peak hours when energy is most carbon intensive, you’ve saved electricity, you’ve saved money and reduced carbon intensity,” he said.

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Project Zeus trains AI through carbon-aware computing devices

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, Knoxville.

This results in increased energy consumption and carbon emissions from the use of GPUs to train 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 green software, he said.

For example, Yang and colleagues at the SymbioticLab research group at the University of Michigan used the information provided by the Carbon Aware SDK to develop the carbon-aware Zeus, an energy optimization framework for deep neural network (DNN) training. Zeus automatically adjusts GPU power limits based on real-time carbon intensity, which results in a 24% reduction in carbon emissions 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.

Zhenning YangUndergraduate 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 combating climate change,” said Yang.

Carbon-aware data center software will make world climate change a reality, says Jae-Won Chung, a Ph.D student in computer science at the University of Michigan.

Chung also worked on the Zeus project. He said that although the Carbon Aware SDK plays a key part in the development of Zeus, there is room for improved documentation and response speed in the project.

“But I would still say it’s very easy to use for a decent developer,” Chung said.

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

Green software tools are looking for a corporate home

Open source tools are a good first step toward making software applications more environmentally friendly, but the priority of enterprise developers will be user experience, followed by cost, said Jim Douglas, president and CEO of Armory, a vendor of ongoing SaaS tools.

How Carbon Conscious SDK interfaces with carbon intensity
Carbon Aware SDK adds carbon measurement to applications.

“If they can tie [carbon-aware tools] to cost optimization without jeopardizing customer experience – for example, performance, reliability and stability of service – it will be adopted,” said Douglas. “If not, adoption will be slow.”

further efforts in publicizing and convincing not only developers and product managers, but also people high up in the chain of command, the importance of energy efficiency and carbon awareness is the key to fueling change, said Chung.

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

Although companies are slow to buy, developers’ hands are not tied, said Marco Santos, Americas CEO at GFT Group, a Germany-based IT consulting firm, which mandates green coding certification for all employees. With carbon-aware computing devices, developers can create more efficient and more optimal software, he said.

“If you code badly, you can run an application [for] 10 hours, then if you do it in a better way, you can run it [for] five minutes,” he said.

But Santos also echoed Chung’s sentiment that tools alone are not enough.

“Tools can train developers,” he said. “But above that, what is needed is a broader approach to training developers so that we can be more efficient and create impact.”

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