Above us only sky... Microsoft tells us about its roofless datacenters

Cloud computing requires a lot of compute power. Microsoft has been continuously expanding their datacenter footprints, as evidenced by their recent expansion into mainland China. However building a new datacenter is an extremely expensive proposition, so companies have been looking for ways to increase density while decreasing cost.

During a discussion on Microsoft datacenter management here at TechEd, Jamal Malik, a Business Solution Architect with Microsoft's Datacenter and Private Cloud division, spoke about the challenges and changes of new datacenters. Although the company has been building datacenters since 1989, the process now is completely different than it was 25 years ago. Instead of building servers in cases, for example, the company uses "skinless" servers - machines that consist only of the motherboard, CPU, storage, networking, and memory - and all of the components are soldered directly onto the motherboard. In addition, there is no redundancy for individual machines; instead, the thousands of servers act as redundancy for themselves.

Perhaps even more surprising though, is how Microsoft is building these new datacenters. Instead of designing and fabricating a new building to house the machines, the servers are instead put into pods and wheeled onto a parking lot or other similar perimeter. A wall is put up to surround these pods, and the compute power is added to the grid of datacenters in the world. The company doesn't even build a roof over the pods, instead relying on the pod itself to protect the equipment. A process that used to take months or even years now takes weeks.

The main key to this new process requires four main principles that must be followed:

  • Extreme Standardization of both the hardware and software layers
  • SLA-Driven architecture where workloads are resilient at the application layer, not the physical layer
  • Process maturity, including automation and rigid change control
  • Delegation and control, driving out the human element and allowing customers to self-serve

While not exactly cutting edge news, it's certainly interesting to hear how Microsoft is supporting their world-wide cloud offerings like Azure, Xbox Live, and Outlook.com.

Image courtesy of GCN.com

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