Microsoft’s Generation 4 Data Center Vision – the Architects’ Perspective
By David Gauthier, Data Center Infrastructure Architect and Christian Belady, Principal Power and Cooling Architect, Microsoft Corp.
On Tuesday, December 2, our Global Foundation Services team went public with our Generation 4 Modular Data Center Vision and over the past week a lot of great discussions and questions have been posed from our industry colleagues. Today, we wanted to address some of those questions and share more insight on our Gen 4 plan via a video interview we did with Adam Bomb, a Technical Evangelist at Microsoft’s TechNet Edge.
Some people got the impression that this announcement was solely about a containerized server room rather than a re-thinking of the entire infrastructure. The goal of Gen 4 is to modularize not only the server and storage components, which a number of companies are already doing, but also to modularize the infrastructure, namely the electrical and mechanical systems. The real innovation is around the commonality, manufacturing, supply chain and integration of these modules to provide a plug-and-play infrastructure along with modularized server environments. In addition, it is focused on scaling the infrastructure with the business demands, smoothing capital investment, and driving costs down as shown by the following chart.
While we expect these modular innovations to reduce capital investments by 20%-40% or more depending on class, we also expect considerable reductions in operating expenses related to electricity and water consumption. Designing from the start for environmental sustainability has allowed us to focus on using less construction material up front, less energy and water during operation, and also allows us to recycle and reuse components at the end of their useful life. No longer will we be governed by the initial decisions made when constructing the facility. We will have almost unlimited use and re-use of the facility and site. We will also be able to use power in an ultra-fluid fashion moving load from critical to non-critical as use and capacity requirements dictate.
More importantly, any IT or infrastructure vendor’s products that meet our specs can be used interchangeably, thus providing a means for global sourcing and a competitive and innovative supplier landscape. As our team has already discussed pretty thoroughly, Microsoft is already reaping some of the benefits of modularity with server containers and we are confident that further modularization will afford us additional benefits when applied to the ‘back of house’.
Some people have questioned whether an open air facility is as safe against natural disasters as a traditional concrete and steel structure. We believe that it can be and we are currently taking these factors into account as part of our heat map criteria site selection activities. Of course, we also expect that our modular approach affords tremendous flexibility in addressing site specific conditions as needed. Another significant benefit modularity offers is a smaller system failure zone versus a traditional data center. For example, a fire in a data center could bring the whole facility down in traditional construction (or have the fire department activate the emergency power off). Alternatively, in a modularized data center the fire could actually be isolated to only a subset of modules and thus provide greater resiliency.
We recognize that these types of architectures may not work for every application or every data center provider out there. We’re not saying this will be the right way or the wrong way, just our way – and it may not be for everyone. We are confident about this direction meeting the needs of our data center environment and we hope that it sets the stage for continued healthy and dynamic dialog and sharing in this industry.
For more background information on our modular data center vision, please visit the December 2nd blog of “Our Vision for Generation 4 Modular Data Centers – One way of getting it just right…,” as well as the Gen 4 video posted at this