Thursday, December 04, 2008

Microsoft Generation 4 Modular Data Centers

Many people have commented and blogged on the recent post from Michael Manos about the Microsoft Generation 4 Modular Data Center strategy. I have watched the video about 5 times now and really like it. I especially like the fact that Microsoft is sharing this and giving so much information to the public about their strategies and countless hours of research.

If you haven't checked it out (are you living under a rock!), then it is VERY much worth the read. The post references a very nice video they produced to demonstrate some of the research and Gen 4 model for their data centers. It is complete with a piano soundtrack titled "Daybreak" (can't have a dramatic video like this without an appropriately named theme song. :) )

I do have just a few observations and questions that I thought I would log about the strategy, video and otherwise.....

  • One of the most intriguing parts of the video, to me, was not mentioned in very much detail in the blog post. I liked the depiction of their distribution system for data centers: Mega data center, Anchor and Edge. I assume that the Mega data center feeds the anchors, and the Anchors then feed the Edge, which was comprised of the 4 basic containers. The Anchors could simply be a communication hub, since a lot of international fiber lines were drawn off of them.
  • I am VERY excited that the Des Moines data center could potentially be the first Gen 4 data center. San Antonio was Gen 2, Chicago was Gen3 , so......
  • I imagine this is just the details, but.... asset management could be simplified and streamlined for them as well. It looked to me like (in the video) that as the trucks were leaving the warehouse, they were scanned. It would be logical then also that they are scanned upon entering the edge or mega data center and the contents are automatically updated to note that the particular compute unit is now at that location.
  • The biggest concern or question may just be a thing that I have to get past as the model for data centers evolves and advances. It may also just be applicable to this particular Microsoft strategy and not for others. Security! Natural Disasters! We see data centers built miles underground, have DoD-trained anti-terrorism staff, and have 3 foot thick re-inforced concrete. Yet, the video showed their mega data center with containers Outside!! I suppose security is established at the perimeter, and since the equipment is all inside the container there is no worry about privacy. As far as natural disaster prevention.....I'm stumped. Maybe they anchor the containers once in place. Maybe there are other measures in place that just weren't discussed.
  • I also noticed that they discussed reducing the dependency on water cooling and overall use of water in the data center. I think this is a trend you will see more of in the coming years. Maybe they could put 3 or 4 windmills on top of each branch spine in the mega data centers.
  • A question I had, and have had ever since containers have really taken off, is about the rest of world (not Google or Microsoft). How can radical design and engineering changes like the Gen 4 strategy apply to other business or the colo industry? The idea I have in my head for applying this to the colo industry, is something like what BastionHost is doing with their DataVille system. It's called HotParking, and is a BYOC (Bring Your Own Container) model. They provide the security and facility hook-ups, you park your container.

A year or two ago I was pretty skeptical about the whole container model and what, if anything, it could offer. Today, I'm fully on board....with questions....but on board.

THANK YOU Michael for publishing the information and to all the Microsoft Research staff for the excellent work.

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