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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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December 2, 2008 12:47 PM

Microsoft planning more modular data centers

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft is taking a new approach to building the massive data centers that run its growing suite of online services, which are fast becoming central to its business. The company plans to build modular data centers, which use shipping containers preloaded with up to 2,500 server computers that can be built in half the time as conventional data centers.

More details and a video explaining it all after the jump.

"Our 'Gen 4' modular data centers will take the flexibility of containerized servers -- like those in our Chicago data center -- and apply it across the entire facility," wrote Michael Manos, general manager of Microsoft's Global Foundation Services, in a blog post describing the new strategy. "So what do we mean by modular? Think of it like 'building blocks', where the data center will be composed of modular units of prefabricated mechanical, electrical, security components, etc., in addition to containerized servers. ... We believe it is one of the most revolutionary changes to happen to data centers in the last 30 years."

Manos is in charge of "global data center design, construction and ongoing operations for Microsoft's online services." These data centers are the foundation upon which Microsoft's cloud services are built. Manos wrote that the company has more than 240 online products and services.

Microsoft has a major data center in Quincy, Grant County. Other major Internet companies, including Google and Yahoo, have built data centers elsewhere in the Northwest to take advantage of cheap hydroelectric power.

Microsoft is planning to "modularize the whole data center," Manos wrote. "Not just the server side (like the Chicago facility), but the mechanical and electrical space as well. 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."

The company's interest in this type of data center has been public since at least April 2007, when it was reported by Data Center Knowledge.

The benefits of this approach, according to Manos, include:

-- Capital cost savings of 20 to 40 percent;

-- Easier increases in capacity to meet demand, without huge upfront investments;

-- Water use, for chillers, potentially reduced to zero. ("Today's data centers use massive amounts of water and we see water as the next scarce resource and have decided to take a proactive stance on making water conservation part of our plan.")

-- Improved energy efficiency in construction and operation. (Microsoft Research is also focused on improving data center efficiency. Second item in this story.)

"In short, we are striving to bring Henry Ford's Model T factory to the data center. ... Gen 4 will move data centers from a custom design and build model to a commoditized manufacturing approach," Manos wrote.

Manos described this video, complete with mellow futuristic piano music, as "a view into what we think is the future." (One big difference: no roof.)

<a href="" target="_new" title="Microsoft Generation 4.0 Data Center Vision">Video: Microsoft Generation 4.0 Data Center Vision</a>

You may have noticed the "edge" example depicted in the video is in Seattle near Qwest Field. A Microsoft spokeswoman says it's just an example, "not anything that's in the works." Although one might surmise from the video that Microsoft is planning to build these smaller "edge" centers in major cities around the world.

For a glimpse of the present, see this video tour of Microsoft's Quincy data center from the BBC.

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