Microsoft builds first major container-based data center

Vendor plans to install up to 220 server-filled shipping containers at US facility

Microsoft and Sun Microsystems both may claim to have pioneered the "data center in a box" concept, but Microsoft appears to be the first company that is rolling out container-based systems in a major way inside one of its data centers.

At a conference in the US last week, Michael Manos, Microsoft's senior director of data center services, said in a keynote speech that the first floor of a data center being built by the software vendor will hold up to 220 shipping containers, each preconfigured to support between 1,000 and 2,000 servers, according to various news reports and blog posts.

That means the US$500 million, 550,000-square-foot facility in Chicago, could have as many as 440,000 Windows servers on the first floor alone or up to 11 times more than the total of 40,000 to 80,000 servers that conventional data centers of the same size typically can hold, according to Manos. He was quoted as saying that Microsoft also plans to install an undisclosed number of servers on the building's second floor, which will have a traditional raised-floor layout.

Microsoft's public relations staff didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday about the speech that Manos gave at the Data Center World conference. But James Hamilton, a technical architect on Microsoft's Windows Live Platform Services team, has posted multiple entries about the speech by Manos on his public blog.

Microsoft has said that it plans to begin operations at the new data center by the end of the US summer. The company is on a data center building spree aimed at meeting the sharp growth in processing demand that its Windows Live and Office Live online services are expected to generate. Other IT facilities are being built in San Antonio, Dublin and rural Quincy, Washington, the latter of which would be Microsoft's largest data center at 1.5 million square feet.

Cooled by the oft-chilly winds blowing off of Lake Michigan, Chicago was rated in a study conducted last year as the most energy-efficient US city in which to build a data center. But the density of Microsoft's data center is requiring the company to construct three electrical substations that will provide a total of 198 megawatts of electricity for powering and cooling systems, according to a story posted by the Data Center Knowledge online news site.

That's enough electricity to power almost 200,000 homes, and Manos told Data Center Knowledge that about 82 per cent of the US$500 million bill for the Chicago data center is going toward the facility's mechanical and electrical infrastructure.

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