Designing Generation 4.0 Data Centers: The Engineers’ Approach to Solving Business Challenges…continued

Part # 2


(A couple of years ago, when our Data Center Services’ Research & Engineering team within Microsoft’s  Global Foundation Services (GFS) group kicked off the Generation 4.0 Data Center design project,  we began with the question of:  What are the primary business challenges facing data center deployments today? )  Here’s the rest of the story….


Question Everything


Often the application of technology involves as much innovation as the technology itself.  Rather than reinvent the wheel we looked at our industry’s journey thus far.  We started by questioning everything up to and including the roof and the very definition of a data center. With a lot of prior art in modularization, some of which has already been applied to the IT industry, we saw a good fit. The military has been deploying portable ground stations with IT servers and communications equipment for decades. And for some time now telecom companies have deployed pre-manufactured buildings which are then assembled on site as central offices.


As part of our design project we met to discuss the modular solution space with a group of folks from our Infrastructure Services team within GFS , including members of our hardware, data center operations, development, engineering, risk management, and security teams, as well as our internal product groups. (The original Gen 4.0 team from the two-day session is 100 percent intact and still working at Microsoft, by the way.) We knew we could modularize the server room, which we now call Server PACs. The challenge became how to modularize the entire facility. So we created other PACs: Generator PACS, Medium Voltage Switchgear PACs, UPS PACs, etc. Next, we developed the system electrical one-line diagrams and mechanical schematics for our four data center classes.


Then we had to take these single lines and schematics and break them into logical modules for the components to reside in. This may seem easy but represents a shift in thinking from a building where, for instance, we would have a UPS room and associated equipment and switchgear manufactured by multiple vendors and put it physically in sometimes separate modules. The challenge became how to shift from a traditional construction mindset to the new, modularized manufacturing mindset. Maintainability is a large part of reliability in a facility, and became a key differentiator between the four classes. Our A Class infrastructure, which is not concurrently maintainable and is on basically street power and unconditioned air, will require scheduled downtime for maintenance. The cost, efficiency, and time-to-market targets for A Class are very aggressive and a fraction of what the industry has come to see as normal today.  We realized that standardization and reuse of components from one class to the next was a key to improving cost and efficiency.  Our premise was that the same kit of parts (or modules) should be usable from class to class. These modules (in this new mindset) can be added to other modules to transition within the data center from one class to the next.


 Standardize to Differentiate


With the standardization of a kit of modular parts it is possible to supply different types of facilities—large-scale, mega-data centers and edge or mini-data centers—from the same supply chain.  A pre-manufactured set of solutions can thus reduce costs through economy of scale. Traditionally, because of network and site service costs it has been more cost effective to deploy 40 megawatts of capacity in a single location than to build 40 individual 1-megawatt facilities. In a pre-manufactured model that isn’t necessarily the case.  The use of a production-line approach, while at the same time simplifying interconnections through the right modularization of the components, can drive costs down for mini- as well as mega-data center facilities. Of course the fixed costs of site development must be considered, but we are finding that the production-line approach is significantly narrowing the difference in cost per megawatt for mega- and mini-data centers.


We realize that innovation will come from many sources, and so we are partnering with technology leaders in the vendor community, as well as our customers, to help drive and deliver the benefits of this new approach. We believe it is crucially important to develop this technology now due to the many constraints on our environment and economy globally. However, we do not have unlimited resources to drive this alone. Through industry partnership and collaboration we will be able to accelerate the adoption of modular data centers and deliver the benefits of technology, software, and services to more people.


Imagine the possibilities of bringing affordable computing to corners of the world that have no power or IT grid to speak of today. This could be done using modular power plants such as fuel cells and modular data centers in partnership with wireless technology where there is a lack of existing infrastructure (for example). Applications could become virtual in the local modular data center, or the cloud, and the thousands of services and applications it holds could be provided via low-cost devices. Great opportunities like being able to provide a $100 or a lot less laptop (or new access devices not yet invented) per child could then be achieved sooner.  A modular data center could quickly be deployed to support millions of virtual applications and at the same time access the power of the Internet and cloud services for a large population that does not have that opportunity today. Personally, I am very excited about these possibilities and believe I am fortunate to be working on this technology at this time.


We look forward to continued collaboration with our industry participants.


You can read part 1 of this 2 part series in my earlier blog on April 29, 2009


You can watch the Generation 4 video at this web site link




Daniel Costello, director of Data Center Services 

Global Foundation Services


Daniel Costello is the director for Data Center Services at Microsoft, responsible for data center research and engineering, standards and technologies, data center technology roadmap, Generation 4 data center engineering, data center automation and integration with IT hardware, operating systems and applications.  Daniel works closely with Microsoft Research on proof of concepts in support of the data center of the future and manages a team of facility engineers and service architects.  

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  1. Anonymous says:

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