Microsoft has been investigating and testing containers and modular data centers for some time now. I wrote about them some time back in Architecture for Modular Data Centers (presentation) at the 2007 Conference on Innovative Data Research. Around that time Rackable Systems and Sun Microsystems announced shipping container based solutions and Rackable shipped the first production container. That first unit had more than 1,000 servers. Rackable and Sun helped get this started as early on most of the industry was somewhere between skeptical and actively resistant.

Over the last couple of years, the modular datacenter approach has gained momentum. Now nearly all data center equipment providers have started offering container based solutions

· IBM Scalable modular data center

· Rackable ICE Cube™ Modular Data Center

· Sun Modular Datacenter S20 (project Blackbox)

· Dell Insight

· Verari Forest Container Solution

It’s great to see all the major systems providers investing modular data centers. I expect the pace of innovation to pick up and over the last two weeks I’ve seen three new designs. Things are moving.

Yesterday Mike Manos who leads the Microsoft Global Foundations Data Center team made the first public announcement of a containerized production data center at Data Center World. The Microsoft Chicago facility is a two floor design where the first floor is a containerized design housing 150 to 220 40’ containers each 1,000 to 2,000 servers. Chicago is a large facility with the low end of the ranges Mike quoted yielding 150k serves and the high end running to 440k servers. If you assume 200W/server, the critical load would run between 30MW and 88MW for the half of the data center that is containerized. If you conservatively assume a PUE of 1.5, we can estimate the containerized portion of the data center at between 45MW and 132MW total load. It’s a substantial facility.

John Rath posted great notes on Mike’s entire talk: And, I’m excited about this new news now being public, so when Mike gets back into the office at Redmond I’ll pester him to see if he can release the slides he used. If so, I’ll post them here.

Thanks to Rackable Systems and Sun Microsystems for getting the industry started on commodity-based containerized designs. We now have modular components from most major server vendors and Mike’s talk yesterday at Data Center World market the first publically announced modular facility.


James Hamilton, Windows Live Platform Services
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