An interesting report from Wired recently detailed the latest community Microsoft seems to have upset, and it's somewhat unexpected.
The report opens with a recount of a confrontation between a Dutch councilor and a Microsoft sub-contracted security guard. Local councilor Lars Ruiter appeared on site at a half-completed Microsoft data center being built in the Netherlands, as part of Microsoft's global expansion of the Azure footprint. Microsoft's business increasingly revolves around cloud servers and other cloud-based technologies, and building these kinds of data centers as locally as possible is imperative to meet demand. The further away you physically are from cloud data centers, generally speaking, the worse the service provision is. The most extreme example of this is Xbox Cloud Gaming, whose game streaming provision degrades quite markedly the further away from a data center you are. It's fine generally when working with more simple data transfer protocols like file sharing, but the demand for more, well, demanding cloud provision is increasing. Services like ChatGPT which power Bing Chat reportedly cost over half a million dollars to run per day.
"We regret an interaction that took place outside our data center campus, apparently involving one of Microsoft’s subcontractors," a Microsoft statement reads, referring to the altercation between Ruiter and a Microsoft security guard.
A report from JAS Foundation (machine translated), describes how the security guard allegedly put his hand around Ruiter's throat. "At the time it happened, I was so full of adrenaline that it even made me laugh a little. But once I got back in the car, I started shaking for a while." [...] When the man got close to Rider, he grabbed him by the throat for a few seconds. "The American journalist who was with me also thought his reaction was greatly exaggerated. That traffic controller was really over the top."
Ruiter has been spear-heading local anger against so-called "hyperscale" data center projects such as those seen in the Netherlands, which will house potentially thousands of servers for all sorts of businesses and systems, including Microsoft's own. The contention revolves around building permits, which some locals feel Microsoft has won unfairly. Reportedly, the Netherlands has been curtailing local farmers as part of efforts to reduce nitrogen emissions, which are four times higher than the European average according to Wired's data. Microsoft's data center building efforts seem to have become emblematic of an erosion of farmers' rights and by extension, livelihoods, putting Azure in the cross hairs.
Cloud demands are set to increase
As Microsoft's cloud ambitions grow across gaming, AI, and other services, the chances of it running afoul of local issues like this is also set to increase. Microsoft's carbon footprint is also up for debate as they grow these kinds of operations, particularly as other industries are asked to scale back as cloud demands grow.
Striking a balance between cloud demands and the needs of locals potentially impacted by these so-called hyperscale projects will be potentially tough as Microsoft's ambitions swell.