Microsoft containerizes its data centers

Posted: December 5, 2008 in Business, Data Center, Design, Internet/Telco
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Putting servers inside shipping containers is a trend that is gaining momentum

in the industry with many of the leading infrastructure operators and providers, including Google, IBM, HP and Sun now leveraging the concept to drive efficiency and flexibility of data centers. Now,  Microsoft, which has already deployed a data centre in Chicago using the idea, has outlined a new vision that aims to adopt the concept across its facilities. “Today we are sharing our Generation 4 Modular Data Centre plan. This is our vision and will be the foundation of our cloud data centre infrastructure

in the next five years,” wrote Michael Manos, general manager of global foundation services at Microsoft. “We believe it is one of the most revolutionary changes to happen to data centers in the last 30 years.” In a blog posting in association with Daniel Costello, director of Data Centre Research and Engineering and Christian Belady, principal power

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and cooling architect, Manos says that the new data centre vision  will be composed of modular units of prefabricated mechanical, electrical, security components, etc., in addition to containerized servers.  This would result in “a highly modular, scalable, efficient, justin- time data centre capacity program that can be delivered anywhere in the world very quickly and cheaply, while allowing for continued growth as required,” he wrote. “It allows us to deploy capacity when our demand dictates it. Once finalized, we will no longer need to make large upfront investments. Imagine driving capital costs more closely in-line with actual demand, thus greatly reducing time-to-market and adding the capacity Online inherent in the design. Also reduced is the amount of construction labor required to put these “building blocks” together. Since the entire platform requires pre-manufacture of its core components, on-site construction

costs are lowered.” The new Gen 4 concept would go beyond the company’s existing Chicago

facility, which only modularizes the servers, but instead aims to develop standardized interfaces on the mechanical and electrical levels. “This means using the same kind of parts in pre-manufactured modules,

the ability to use containers, skids, or rack-based deployments and the ability to tailor the Redundancy and Reliability requirements to the application at a very specific level,” Manos said.

FLEXIBLE QoS: One result of the enhanced flexibility is that different server containers can be given different redundancy levels to yield different efficiency levels. According to the blog post, the PUE (power usage effectiveness, which measures the amount of energy inputted into a data centre verses the

amount of power that goes to power the IT infrastructure) can be driven down to 1.08-1.14 in configurations where there is no UPS (uninterrupted power supply) or generator, and PUEs of between 1.27-1.33 in scenarios with dual backup for UPS and generator. That kind of PUE range represents an extremely efficient use of energy because almost every watt of power entering the data centre goes to running the IT infrastructure. Typical legacy data centers run with PUE ranges of over 2, meaning that for every 2 watt of energy entering the facilities, only half is used to power the IT gear. “A key driver is our goal to achieve an average PUE at or below 1.125 by 2012 across our data centers,” he said.

BEYOND THE SERVERS: Another key proposal of Microsoft’s vision is what it calls “the central spine infrastructure,” essentially a network of slots for the server containers connected together by air vents and cables ducts. The company is proposing a standardized implementation of this

infrastructure to further enhanced flexibility. “Gen 4 will allow us to decommission, repair and upgrade quickly because everything is modular. No longer will we be governed by the initial decisions made when constructing the facility,” he said. “We will have almost unlimited use and re-use of the facility and site.”

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