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Microsoft taps Dell to build Azure cloud

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Dell eying containerized data centers?

As for the specific designs of the servers, all Dell will say is that the servers it creates for DCS customers have right-sized power supplies and fans, so energy is not wasted; low-flow fan algorithms that increase fan efficiency and return air temperature to computer room air-conditioning units; increased memory density that helps reduce excess heat and overall power consumption in the server; and custom-designed chasses that help optimize density and airflow.

The machines are undoubtedly based on x64 processors, although it would be hilarious if Windows Azure was running on Itanium iron (which is technically possible but logically stupid, especially since Dell doesn't really like Itanium and Microsoft only does because it helps kill RISC/Unix a little).

Here's a link to a cloud server design Dell has done, called the XS23, that the company is willing to talk about. It has four two-socket servers and a dozen 3.5-inch drives in a 2U space. Here's another link, one to the companion J23 JBOD disk array, which crams 23 disks into a 2U space. (That's a dozen drives in the front, eleven in the back, and the power supplies in the middle; the power cord eats the space of one of the drives in the back).

"The scale at which Microsoft is building out their cloud and the infrastructure to support Windows Azure absolutely warranted really optimized solutions," explained Norrod. "We think they chose us because we gave them the solution that was power-optimized, performance-optimized, easy to deploy and scale to fulfill their needs and support it around the world."

A report in Data Center Knowledge claims that Microsoft has tested Azure on iron from Verari Systems and Rackable Systems, niche blade and rack server makers who have maximized energy efficiency and density in their respective designs. This report says that while the initial Azure iron is sitting in the data center in Quincy, the Azure cloud will eventually be run in a containerized data center that Microsoft is planning for the outskirts of Chicago.

Verari sells its own containerized data centers, called Forrest, as do Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems. Microsoft is already a Verari customer (and one of its largest customers at that), so a Dell hardware win is a pretty big deal. Dell has been reportedly working on its own containerized data center as well, and this may have been a key factor in its selection by Microsoft for the Azure iron.

The word on the street back in April was that Microsoft was buying 220 containers worth of gear to power its cloud computing effort for the Chicago data center. No word yet on whether this is still the plan. ®

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