Microsoft Looking at Ultra-Modular Data Centers as Ultra-Efficient Solution

data center servers photo

Photo via NeoSpire via Flickr CC

Microsoft has stepped outside of the box when thinking about smart, cheap, efficient data center design. The company is testing out a whole new type of modular data center that boasts recyclable materials, efficient cooling and a LEGO-like method of scaling up as demand requires. The testing is going well, and if it continues, we just might have small-stature data centers dotting cool climate landscapes as a smarter solution to data centers and their environmental footprints. PC World writes, "At the DatacenterDynamics conference in New York on Wednesday, Microsoft data center general manager Kevin Timmons outlined some prototype work his unit is doing to design its next generation of data centers, in collaboration with Microsoft Research. His vision is radically different from most of what the company already has in place."

And that something is eliminating the standard one-big-building approach to data centers. Instead, the company is working on IT preassembled components, or PACs. They're small, self-contained units that can be put together off-site and linked together to create a complete data center. This would allow them to be inexpensively and easily located in colder climates where the cost of cooling - the most significant energy use in a data center - would be minimized. It would also allow for a data center to grow only as demand grows, adding on a new IT PAC when client demand requires it, rather than building a single structure that may not be used at full capacity or be quickly outgrown.

"We want to view our data centers as more of a traditional manufacturing supply chain, instead of monolithic builds," he said. "It won't all be built on-site in one shot."

The IT PACs could help Microsoft provide more server capabilities in half the usual amount of time while still cutting costs. The IT PACs are built with commercially available components - mainly highly-recyclable steel and aluminum - so no new manufactured parts are needed, and they use ambient air cooling for efficiency. And each IT PAC could hold between 1,200 to 2,100 servers for a total energy consumption of between 400 and 600 kilowatts. All this put together gives them an expected PUE of 1.26 to 1.35 - not the best, but certainly on the low end of the industry average.

It's a smart experiment by Microsoft, which has been proactive in energy efficient data center innovation. We're curious about how this might rank on the upcoming Energy Star ratings for data centers.

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