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A peek inside Microsoft's new data center reveals its shipping container approach, which has allowed it to reach a PUE of 1.22 -- almost as good as Google.  (Source: Microsoft)
Google's latest bravado can only be matched by the king of self-promotion, Microsoft

Microsoft is one of the world's largest companies and unsurprisingly that's thanks in part of a healthy level of self-promotion.  Microsoft's self-image is certainly a rosy one that at times as produced almost comical comments, such as when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer welcomed Google's new Android OS to "Microsoft's world", apparently referring to the phone OS market, despite the fact the Symbian had vastly more market share.

So when Google gave an unprecedented inside peek inside its efforts to green its servers and offered up some hard numbers in the form of Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) metrics, Microsoft couldn't resist the chance to try one-up its competitor with its own server efforts.

The software and hardware giant says it is installing new servers contained within 40-foot shipping containers at its Chicago data center.  It says its new containers are ultra-efficient, sporting a PUE of 1.22, according to Microsoft’s Mike Manos.  This comes close to Google's average PUE of 1.21 at its six company-built data centers, which it was recently bragging about. 

The Northlake, Illinois data center has just completed its first phase of construction in what will be a $550M USD project yielding a 500,000 square-foot facility.  Mr. Manos added, "The facility is already simply amazing and it’s a wonder to behold.  The joke we use internally is that this is not your mother’s data center.  You get that impression from the first moment you step into the ‘hangar bay’ on the first floor. The hangar’s first floor will house the container deployments and I can assure you it is like no data center you have ever seen.  It’s one more step to the industrialization of the IT world, or at least the cloud-scale operations space."

Each 40-foot CBlox container can house 2,500 servers, a density 10 times that of a normal data center.  The first floor alone is intended to house 150 to 220 containers, meaning that the first floor alone could hold 375,000 and 550,000 servers.  Google has not yet announced figures on the number of servers in its data centers, but it is expected to be perhaps even greater.

Mr. Manos bragged of the center's efficiency, stating, "Now I want to be careful here as the reporting of efficiency numbers can be a dangerous exercise in the blogosphere.  But our testing shows that our containers in Chicago can deliver an average PUE of 1.22 with an AVERAGE ANNUAL PEAK PUE of 1.36. I break these two numbers out separately because there is still some debate (at least in the circles I travel in) on which of these metrics is more meaningful.  Regardless of your position on which is more meaningful, you have to admit those numbers are pretty darn compelling."

While Microsoft's numbers may be very impressive, and well ahead of much of the industry, that sports PUE's of around 2.5, they still fall short of Google's.  PUE is a measure of the ratio of watts into the IT infrastructure versus watts out to power IT components -- a PUE of 1 is ideal, but considered non-attainable.  Google has reported that it has one data center with an average PUE of 1.13.  Google has indicated that its data centers may be built using containers as well.

Mr. Manos states, "This new approach is definitely a change in how facilities have traditionally been developed, and as a result many people in our industry are intimidated by it.  But they shouldn’t be. Data centers have not changed in fundamental design for decades.  Sometimes change is good. The exposure to any new idea is always met with resistance, but with a little education things change over time."

Unfortunately, Microsoft still appears a step behind as Google owns the patent on portable container data centers.  Microsoft is likely licensing the patent or is in for a legal headache.  Google received the patent from the USPTO after filing 12-3-2003, just days after it allegedly rejected a pitch for the same idea to Larry Page by Robert X. Cringely, who offers supporting documents that he came up with idea.  Nonetheless, Google now holds the patent on the technology that is driving it and its competitor Microsoft's datacenters.



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Great...
By FITCamaro on 10/21/2008 5:21:10 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
Unfortunately, Microsoft still appears a step behind as Google owns the patent on portable container data centers.


Apparently putting servers in a box is patentable.




RE: Great...
By Oregonian2 on 10/21/2008 6:44:59 PM , Rating: 5
Microsoft's appear to be blue. The Google patent may be for some other color.


RE: Great...
By depravedone on 10/21/2008 9:01:54 PM , Rating: 2
Sun Microsystems has been offering a Modular Data Center solution housed in a 40' shipping container for a while now.


RE: Great...
By GaryJohnson on 10/21/2008 10:44:42 PM , Rating: 3
RE: Great...
By omnicronx on 10/22/2008 11:01:05 AM , Rating: 3
Can't they just get past the patent by saying the boxes are not portable? Was this information researched, or was the author just guessing? Server containers have been around a lot longer than 5 years.


RE: Great...
By diego10arg on 10/22/2008 12:26:02 PM , Rating: 2
I've been putting my computer case inside my closet for the last 3-4 years to keep the computer 100% inaudible.

Should I patent that technology??

jk


Ummm, wrong.
By SoCalBoomer on 10/21/2008 4:45:12 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
Google's latest bravado can only be matched by the king of self-promotion, Apple


Fixed it for you.




RE: Ummm, wrong.
By Rodney McNaggerton on 10/21/2008 4:59:35 PM , Rating: 5
a ham sandwich for you, my friend.


RE: Ummm, wrong.
By threepac3 on 10/21/2008 5:31:04 PM , Rating: 3
Green eggs and ham sandwich...


So....
By mikeyD95125 on 10/21/2008 10:35:19 PM , Rating: 2
Google has 6 already existing data center's with an average PUE of 1.21 and Microsoft can't even build a brand new one that beats there average?

Lame.




RE: So....
By GaryJohnson on 10/21/2008 10:53:16 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
PUE is determined by dividing the amount of power entering a data center by the power used to run the computer infrastructure within it.

And that's not a metric that actually means anything because most of your power might be going to processes and operations that you didn't need to execute in the first place.


RE: So....
By Alexstarfire on 10/22/2008 12:31:29 AM , Rating: 2
So let me get this straight... it's the amount of power entering the building divided by the amount of power to run the computers? Or is this more like how the efficiency of a PSU works?


RE: So....
By foolsgambit11 on 10/22/2008 2:38:10 PM , Rating: 2
Well, that would be part of it, but it also includes cooling the building, etc.


RE: So....
By omnicronx on 10/22/2008 11:05:34 AM , Rating: 3
Google = Giant search engine in which their entire business relies on data centers, it should not come as a surprise that Google is more advanced than Microsoft in that area. In fact Microsoft coming even close to Google is pretty amazing, when you consider the amount of R&D Google puts into datacenters.


Not to appear ignorant but...
By Army1156 on 10/21/2008 5:38:34 PM , Rating: 2
Why do servers become more efficient when inside a box? Are shipping containers different from the garden-variety rectangular prism?




RE: Not to appear ignorant but...
By kowaj on 10/21/2008 5:47:39 PM , Rating: 3
In a data center eviroment a lot of energy is used for power and cooling. When these servers are centralized into a container cooling the equipment can be done a bit easier by containing the hot return air from the equipment. Basically you are only powering and cooling the space you need. Not a 200,00 square foot date center.

These containers are also recylable and are simply pulled out and replaced with new container. Then the equipment in the old container is recylced and the container is reused.


By rippleyaliens on 10/21/2008 7:56:07 PM , Rating: 1
Something to add..
The Heat generated by the servers, can be utilized to heat the facility (office space) Which may not be ALOT but it does help in reducing total costs.
There is a datacenter, in place (the location escapes me), in which the Heat from a datacenter, is ported next door, to heat a swiming pool. a Win - Win solution. Heat is naturally a by-product of servers (my gas bill is lower in the winter, via my lab, but obviously my cooling in the summer sucks)..

The ability to squeeze that many servers in a container, yah, i am liking that idea.


Wonder if they are AMD?
By Scott66 on 10/22/2008 1:28:11 AM , Rating: 4
Maybe Microsoft will use new AMD servers to get back at intel for not switching to Vista.




The keyword is....
By Alexstarfire on 10/21/2008 10:36:07 PM , Rating: 2
"tries." They fail, but are at least an honorable mention. If this new data center sports an average of 1.22 PUE, what is Microsoft's average PUE, because this 1.22 PUE is obviously the lowest one they have.




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