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Gates threatens to buy millions and millions of servers for Microsoft

While Google builds its own gear

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Say what you will about Bill Gates. The man is consistent.

Gates' farewell speech at this week's TechEd conference closed out his full-time role at Microsoft with the usual thud. The man has a gift for stating the obvious and detailing what's to come when it's already here.

This time around, Gates went after The Cloud. And how could he resist? Nothing receives as much hype as the SaaSy world of tomorrow.

Microsoft is all about The Cloud and shipping what used to be boxed-up software as a service. Never mind that the shift to such a software delivery method threatens to place a death grip on Microsoft's bottom line. And please ignore the fact that Microsoft doesn't have any very good answers about how to fix this problem. Just remember that it's all about The Cloud. Big time.

You guys read a lot about Google and Microsoft building $500m data centers. These beasts pop up in Podunk towns around the US faster than Dairy Queens and Wal-Marts. In reality, though, you ain't seen nothing yet.

"We're taking everything we do at the server level, and saying that we will have a service that mirrors that exactly," Gates said at TechEd. "The simplest one of those is to say, okay, I can run Exchange on premise, or I can connect up to it as a service. But even at the BizTalk level, we'll have BizTalk Services. For SQL, we'll have SQL Server Data Services, and so you can connect up, build the database.

"It will be hosted in our cloud with the big, big data center, and geo-distributed automatically. This is kind of fascinating because it's getting us to think about data centers at a scale that never existed before. Literally, today we have, in our data center, many hundreds of thousands of servers, and in the future, we'll have many millions of those servers."

Many millions? Holy hell.

Well, like, you'll need to create special servers to function on that scale, right? General purpose gear meant for the Fortune 10,000 abyss simply won't do. Any bright ideas on how to solve that one, Bill?

"When you think about the design of how you bring the power in, how you deal with the heating, what sort of sensors do you have, what kind of design do you want for the motherboard, you can be very radical, in fact, come up with some huge improvements as you design for this type of scale," Gates said. "And so going from a single server all the way up to this mega data center that Microsoft and only a few others will have, it gives you an option to run pieces of your software at that level.

"You'll have hybrids that will be very straightforward. If you want to use it just for an overload condition, or disaster recovery, but the software advances to make it so when you write your software you don't have to care where those things are located, those are already coming into play. So the services way of thinking about things is very important, and will cause a lot of change."

See what we mean about the thud? Here's Gates giving his long goodbye and basically outlining what Google has been up to for years.

We may be underplaying the customization work that Microsoft already has underway, but we doubt it. The company buys its gear from the Tier 1 set and Rackable Systems. It's pretty well locked into the old model, while Google has managed to turn Intel of all companies into a custom design house, with the chip maker crafting bespoke motherboards. Google's also building its own switches and doing unspeakable things with disks.

The closest Microsoft has come to radical - at least in public - is with a new data center in Chicago that will center on data centers in containers. The likes of Rackable and Dell are falling over themselves to design something to Microsoft's liking, and Microsoft looks set to create a very dense and energy efficient data plant.

At what point will Microsoft take things to the next level and go Googlesque by demanding even more from the server vendors or by turning into its own server shop? Moving millions and millions of servers to Redmond seems to make little since for the vendors selling them, since that type of volume will kill any available margins. Meanwhile, Microsoft might find that the paperwork alone on such purchases is more of a pain than just cobbling together the kit in-house.

We're not sure if Microsoft will choose the build-over-buy option, but we are sure that it will be well behind the rest of its competitors with the "right" decision. That's the kind of culture Bill has left. ®

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