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Microsoft meths up data center with 220 containers

Redefines the internet super-highway

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Crack open the Natty Light. Microsoft plans to throw a white trash data center rager in Chicago.

Microsoft will cram between 150 and 220 shipping containers filled with data center gear into a new 500,000 square foot facility. This move marks the most significant, public use of the shipping container systems popularized by the likes of Sun Microsystems and Rackable Systems to date.

Microsoft's data center services director Michael Manos revealed the grand plans during a speech at the Data Center World conference in Las Vegas. Fittingly, Data Center Knowledge appears to have grabbed the news first, celebrating Microsoft's ways as the dawn of a new era in compartmentalized, utility computing.

"The entire first floor of Chicago is going to be containers," Manos said. "This represents our first container data center. The containers are going to be dropped off and plugged into network cabling and power.

"It's a bold step forward. We're trying to address scale with the cloud level services. We were trying to figure the best way to bring capacity online quickly."

The second level of Microsoft's data center will stick with the raised floors of yesteryear.

This huge data center build out will aid Microsoft's web-based software delivery efforts. And so the internet super-highway will actually arrive via the physical highway, as Microsoft will rely on large trucks to bring in the gear.

The company has set up a number of centers around the country for similar purposes and is in an arms race of sorts with Google.

Sun and Rackable would appear the most likely suppliers of Microsoft's containers, which we've dubbed white trash data centers much to the chagrin of five Register readers. (This is not a racial slur against white folk but rather an embrace of the Southern, food stamp culture your reporter shares with trailerized people.)

As we read the tea leaves, Sun stands out as Microsoft's data center dealer. That's because Rackable earlier this year said that it only expected to ship between 20 and 50 data center containers in 2008. Surely, the company, already a big hardware supplier to Microsoft, would have tried to show off had it won a 150 container deal.

The containers could afford Microsoft some internal billing and measurement wonderment, according to Manos.

"We're looking at using containers inside our future data centers," he told SearchDataCenter.com. "One of the things we like about them is we can take a bunch of servers and look at the output of that box and look at the power it draws. At the end of the day, we can determine, 'What is the IT productivity of that unit? How many search queries were executed per box? How many emails sent or stored?' You can get into some really interesting metrics. A lot of people say you can't look at the productivity of a data center, but if you compartmentalize it - not as small as the server level, but at some chunk in between - you can measure productivity.

"The data center is a utility function. Everyone uses the common resources without a real understanding of the business impact. I read an article recently that said 30% of IT professionals don't believe power is a challenge, and they're wrong. It's a large component of the operating expenses to running the business. Most of these people aren't exposed to the power bill -- they just don't have the data. If you don't expose how much it costs you to run those facilities, they can't manage to a problem they don't know they have yet. Even if you have a fairly rudimentary chargeback model, once you start measuring it, you can find better ways to measure. I fundamentally believe chargeback has had an effect on Microsoft."

To date, most of the revealed white trash data center customers have been government users or labs. They're looking for the quickest route to lots of horsepower and can drop the containers near some energy and water and get cranking. Sun and Rackable both point to financial services companies as likely buyers of the systems as well, although those irresponsible clowns have little money left for new hardware purchases.

It might get interesting to see how Google reacts to Microsoft's use of the containers, since the ad broker has a patent on the technology. ®

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