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Inside Microsoft's Private Cloud

I had the opportunity this week to see Microsoft's portable data centers, which the company showcased here in New York.

In honor of Earth Day, I thought it would be fitting to describe what Microsoft is showcasing because it does portend its vision for the next generation data centers that have self-cooling systems and servers that don't require fans.

Microsoft first demonstrated the portable data centers at its Professional Developers Conference back in November in concert with the launch of Windows Azure. It gained further prominence last month when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made his "we're all in the cloud" proclamation at the University of Washington with these huge units in tow. The one I saw in New York was 20-feet long by seven feet wide but Microsoft also has one that stretches 40 feet.

These portable data centers, which are designed to be housed outdoors, are packed with loads of racks, blade servers, load balancers, controllers, switches and storage all riding on top of Windows Azure and Microsoft's latest systems management and virtualization technology.

But they also have self-cooling systems that suck the hot air out of the servers and use that to generate heat when needed in other parts of the data center. In places where the climate is cold, it brings that cool air into the data center. Otherwise it takes the outside air and runs it through what are known as adiabatic coolers. These custom-configured containers have sensors that automatically adapt to outside temperatures that fall below 50 degrees or above 95 degrees, as well as humidity levels lower than 20 percent or higher than 80 percent.

While these portable data centers represent the latest proof-of-concept for where Microsoft sees organizations building on-premises private clouds, they are used to power Microsoft's own Azure-based data centers. "These are actual units that run our data centers today," said Bryan Kelly, a service architect for research and engineering in Microsoft's Global Foundation Services business unit, who demonstrated the portable data center for me.

It is also a reasonable bet that while they are not on Microsoft's official product roadmap, customers will ultimately be able to buy their own Azure powered containers that, in some way, emulate this model, most likely from large systems vendors such as Cisco, Dell, EMC Hewlett-Packard, IBM and custom system builders.

Speaking at the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas Tuesday, Bob Muglia, president of the company's systems and tools business was the latest to suggest as much.  "The work that we're doing to build our massive-scale datacenters we'll apply to what you're going to be running in your datacenter in the future because Microsoft and the industry will deliver that together," Muglia said, according to a transcript of his speech.

Microsoft will buy 100,000 computers this year for its own data centers, Muglia said. They will be housed in these containers weighing roughly 60,000 pounds, equipped on average with 2,000 servers and up to a petabyte of data.

The units I saw showed no brands, so I have no idea, whether they were bundled with Cisco, Dell, HP or IBM components, just to name a few. But it doesn't matter, according to Kelly. "This is all commodity hardware," he said.

That may be so but the configuration of these data centers is anything but commodity. To give it justice, check out this Channel 9 video taken by Microsoft's Scott Hanselman at PDC where cloud architect Patrick Yantz provided a 16-minute walkthrough of the units.

Do you see these data centers in your future? Drop me a line at

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/22/2010 at 1:14 PM


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