Putting servers inside shipping containers is a trend that is gaining momentum in the industry with many of the leading infrastructure operators and providers, including Google, IBM, HP and Sun now adopting the concept.
Now Microsoft, which has already deployed a data centre in Chicago using the idea, has outlined a new vision which it says it aims to apply right across all its facilities.
“We believe [containerisation] is one of the most revolutionary changes to happen to data centres in the last 30 years,” writes Michael Manos, general manager of global foundation services at Microsoft, "and [we believe it] will be the foundation of our cloud data centre infrastructure in the next five years."
In a blog posting in association with Daniel Costello, director of Data Centre Research and Engineering and Christian Belady, principal power and cooling architect, Manos says that the new data centre vision will be composed of modular units of prefabricated mechanical, electrical, security components, etc., in addition to containerised servers.
This would result in “a highly modular, scalable, efficient, just-in-time data centre capacity program that can be delivered anywhere in the world very quickly and cheaply, while allowing for continued growth as required.” he wrote.
“It allows us to deploy capacity when our demand dictates it. Once finalised, we will no longer need to make large up-front investments. Imagine driving capital costs more closely in-line with actual demand, thus greatly reducing time-to-market.
Also reduced is the amount of construction labour required to put these “building blocks” together.
Since the entire platform requires the pre-manufacture of its core components, on-site construction costs are lowered.”
The new Gen 4 concept would go beyond the company’s existing Chicago facility, which only modularises the servers, and will develop standardised interfaces on the mechanical and electrical levels. “This means using the same kind of parts in pre -manufactured modules, the ability to use containers, skids, or rack-based deployments, and the ability to tailor the redundancy and reliability requirements to the application at a very specific level, ”Manos said.
One result of the enhanced flexibility is that different server containers can be given different redundancy levels to yield different efficiency levels.
According to the blog post, the PUE (power usage effectiveness, which measures the amount of energy inputted into a data centre verses the amount of power that goes to power the IT infrastructure) can be driven down a highly efficient range because almost every watt of power entering the data centre goes into running the IT infrastructure. Typical legacy data centres can be much less efficient with only half the electricity consumed being used to power the IT gear.
Another key proposal of Microsoft’s vision is what it calls “the central spine infrastructure”: essentially a network of slots for the server containers connected together by air vents and cables ducts. The company is proposing a standardised implementation of this infrastructure to further enhanced flexibility.
“Gen 4 will allow us to decommission, repair and upgrade quickly because everything is modular. No longer will we be governed by the initial decisions made when constructing the facility,” he said. “We will have almost unlimited use and re-use of the facility and site.”
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