Microsoft Moves Green Data-Center-In-A-Box to Testing Phase

Microsoft Moves Green Data-Center-In-A-Box to Testing Phase

When Microsoft announced last week that it had completed the first phase of its new, container-based data center in the Chicago area, it also lobbed a volley at its perennial rival, Google.

Microsoft said that the new facility, which would be built on modular, shipping-container based data centers, had shown in the testing phase to have a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.22, just a hair higher than Google's recently announced 1.21-PUE data center, and both numbers are significantly higher than the estimated industry standard of a PUE of 2.

Power Usage Effectiveness is a new and frequently-cited benchmark developed and promoted by the nonprofit green IT organization The Green Grid. PUE is designed to measure how much of a data center's power is used to power the IT machinery itself rather than the support infrastructure like cooling and lighting. The lower the PUE, theoretically the more energy efficient the data center is.

Over the course of 2008, PUE numbers have been in the spotlight regularly. Back in April, Hitachi announced that it was building a green data center with a target goal of 1.6 PUE; the next month, Digital Realty Trust said it would begin making public the PUEs for all of its 200 data centers around the world.
A photo of Microsoft's Chicago facility, from Mike Manos's blog. A photo of Microsoft's Chicago facility, from Mike Manos's blog. In the last month, the notoriously secretive Google also released PUEs for some of its data centers, finding an average of 1.21, with one test facility going as low as 1.13. A perfect PUE would be 1 -- all the energy going into a data center is used for IT functions instead of support infrastructure.

Microsoft's Mike Manos unveiled the details about the Chicago facility in a blog post last week. In it, he explained some of the details of the site, including that Microsoft is using standard-sized shipping containers that can each house as many as 2500 servers, which Manos called "a density of 10 times the amount of compute in the equivalent space in a traditional data center."

"...in my mind," Manos writes, "containers are driving huge cost and efficiency (read also as cost benefits in addition to “green” benefits) gains for the business. This is an extremely important point, as Microsoft expands its data center infrastructure, it is supremely important that we follow an established smart growth methodology for our facilities that is designed to prevent overbuilding -- and thus avoid associated costs to the environment and to our shareholders."
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