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Microsoft consumes Chicago data center

If the container fits

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Data center operator Ascent, while not exactly a household name, did stir up a little PR when it brought in a high profile customer named Microsoft to its facility located in the Chicago suburb of Northlake. And now, Microsoft is apparently getting set to buy the data center, nicknamed CH1, from Ascent, giving the data center operator a chance to build a new facility called CH2 that will piggyback on the power and connectivity capabilities that Microsoft is using.

Back in November 2007, Microsoft said it was shelling out $500m to build the Northlake facility, a companion to a similar server and storage mega center that Microsoft said it was building outside of Dublin. Back in October 2008, the economic meltdown forced Microsoft to cut back on spending, including data center rollouts.

The CH1 facility is interesting for another reason besides Microsoft ending up being its sole client. (That was not the plan that Ascent had in mind, by the way). The CH1 facility is where Microsoft is building its first containerized data center, a design that crams servers, storage, and other IT gear into shipping containers to pack that gear in tightly and cheaply. The Northlake data center was supposed to have from 150 to 220 of the standard 40 foot containers jam packed with gear, perhaps several hundred thousand servers in total. It is not clear if Microsoft has, in fact, deployed containers in the CH1 facility.

Microsoft's confidence in the market and its need to deploy servers and storage to support its Web 2.0 intentions seem to have compelled the company to shell out some more dough. According to a report in Crain's Chicago Business, Microsoft has worked out a deal with Ascent to buy the 707,244 square foot CH1 facility for "more than $185m." Microsoft had a purchase option when it inked the CH1 deal with Ascent, which turned an old Kraft Foods into a data center, complete with secure suites for customers that give them their own entrances, security, shipping docks, lobbies, and personnel.

The CH2 data center that will be down the road from CH1 weighs in at a mere 250,000 square feet and will employ the same "data center suites" concept that, in the end, proved to be totally unnecessary at the CH1 facility since Microsoft wanted all of the capacity at the site once it took a look around at its options in Chicago. Ascent says it hopes to have the CH2 facility finished by the end of 2009 and will offer customers basic powered shell and core space where they can add their own facilities and IT gear as well.

As fully constructed, turnkey data centers and offices. The facility will offer raised and slab floor options as well as chilled water and outside air cooling. Customers will be able to go with containerized data centers if that floats their boat or standard compute racks. And it will have its own dedicated electricity substation with two links to the power grid for redundancy. The entry data center sold by Ascent in the facility is expected to be around 10,000 square feet and will scale up to 250,000 square feet or more, according to the company.

Maybe Google will take CH2, just to annoy Microsoft. The company can afford that kind of cut-throat IT humor, after all, and it is always best to distribute your data centers globally. ®

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