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SUPERSIZE my CLOUD - Microsoft plans $677m data centre embiggening

Redmond gets bigger in corn-fed Iowa

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Microsoft's throwing $677.6m into an Iowa data centre expansion just as internet rivals Google and Facebook have begun bulking up.

State governor Terry Branstad and West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer copped to the news here, extending a hearty Midwest welcome to Microsoft - and its jobs and cash - after Redmond's decision to expand the company's existing $100m facility in Iowa.

Codenamed Project Mountain, construction on the new data centre is due to begin later this year and be finished in 2015. It is expected to create 29 new jobs. New fibre will also be laid.

As ever in such deals, the state of Iowa has had to sweeten the pot to attract the tech company in question with the offer of tax credits and fiscal incentives - $20m for Microsoft in this case.

The news comes after Facebook announced in April that its fourth US data centre would be located in Iowa, in Altoona, coming in at an expected $1bn and sized about 1.4 million square feet. Also, Google has announced a $400m expansion of an existing facility in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which serves Google Search, Maps, Gmail and Google+. The money takes Google’s spend on Council Bluffs to a reported $1.5bn.

There's no technology details yet on Microsoft's data centre, but the new facility is not likely to be a record-breaker.

Northlake, Chicago, is Microsoft's biggest to-date - at just over 707,000 square feet - but it seems to be Facebook that’s breaking the records. To give you an idea of what Microsoft is up against: in addition to 1.4 million square feet at Altoona, Facebook this month announced plans for a 900,000 square foot facility in Lulea, Sweden.

The architecture of Microsoft's West Des Moines expansion, meanwhile, is likely to be modular, in keeping with Redmond's new big builds model, and relatively green - a sore subject for environmental campaigners.

Microsoft is committed to what it calls its Gen 4 design: that is a modular construction with servers packed into metal containers and hoisted into position and plugged into a central spine of power and networking. The idea is that Microsoft can expand capacity as needed.

Its Northlake, Chicago, data centre uses 40-foot containers packed with 2,000 servers and is the model for this relatively new design. Half of the Northlake facility, which cost $500m to construct, is modular.

The design is also geared towards reducing the data centre's overall carbon footprint. Using containers cuts down on pouring concrete and laying fixed copper wiring, while Microsoft makes a big deal out of using natural air cooling instead of air-conditioning and chillers, meaning its Gen 4 data centres can reduce water and power consumption.

A key metric the industry holds to is Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) - a ratio of how many watts are spent on supporting the actual IT equipment.

Microsoft's approach has been variable PUE depending on the workload and server's configuration - such as the addition of UPSes and chiller units. Microsoft has developed PUE benchmarks for its data centres calculated using the existing Des Moines facility. These range from between 1.08 up to 1.73, depending the configuration. The company's goal was to achieve an average PUE at or below 1.125 by 2012 across all its data centres.

The Des Moines expansion will also see Microsoft purchase renewable energy credits. Microsoft will offset the data centre's gross carbon emissions by buying "an equivalent amount of renewable energy credits". There was no word on what that amount will be or the expected power draw from the US national grid that'll be needed to calculate such a purchase. ®

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