PORTLAND, Ore.-- "Practice what you preach" is the mantra that comes to mind when you interview Microsoft's director of facilities and energy, Darrell Smith. After a grueling assessment, and over-the-top $60 million estimate by conventional building automation vendors about how to centralize control of its patchwork of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems on its sprawling 500 acre campus, Smith had a better idea: practice-what-you-preach Big Data style.
Microsoft wanted to turn its campus into a green-energy beacon that would reflect the company's core values and ensure all their buildings, LEED-certified or otherwise, were operating efficiently and sustainably. The problem was that all its buildings used different sensors and controllers, prompting contractors to recommend rip-and-replace. Instead, Smith proposed to management that Microsoft's software to do what it does best -- run analytics on Big Data.
"We had HVAC systems from different vendors in almost every building, because they had been built at different times with no standardization," said Smith. "Until then, our strategy had been to assess energy efficiency in each building separately, which was very time consuming and consequently only got done about once every five years. Instead, we wanted to do it in real time."
The problem was that every five years the energy-efficiency assessment team would find massive inefficiencies cause by stuck sensors, malfunctioning controllers or, more often that not, by plain old human error. One of the worst errors they found once they brought the first buildings online was a building where the heating and air-conditioning systems were operating simultaneously. They kept the building at room temperature, but at an enormous waste in energy. In a matter of seconds, the data showed the problem, and a few seconds later it was solved.
Microsoft's corporate campus in Redmond, Washington integrates Big Data everyday -- gigabytes of it streaming in from thousands of sensors and actuators monitoring and controlling, respectively, its diverse family of heat ventilation air conditioning (HVAC) systems -- all from different vendors.
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Microsoft's Big Data comes from 145 structures on Microsoft's campus housing over 30,000 assets covering over 15 million square feet. The data streaming in from these sensors produced about two million data points from half-a-billion transactions each day. The contractors said that is was impossible in monitor all that data, unless a single-vendor solution installed in each building, but Microsoft's experience in Big Data indicated otherwise. So it decided to practice what it preached and consulted its growing list of software vendors hawking software solutions for all sorts of Big Data problems. After drafting a catalog of requirements and distributing it to its software vendors who bid on the project, Microsoft picked the software analytics from Iconics, Johnson Control and New Century Electric.