Microsoft Generation 4 Modular Data Centers

Michael Manos yesterday published Our Vision for Generation 4 Modular Data Centers – One Way of Getting it Just Right. In this posting, Mike goes through the next generation modular data center designs for Microsoft. Things are moving quickly. I first argued for modular designs in a Conference on Innovative Data Systems paper submitted in 2006. Last Spring I blogged First Containerized Data Center Announcement that looks at the containerized portion of the Chicago data center.

In this more recent post, the next generation design is being presented in surprising detail. The Gen4 design has 4 classes of service:

· A: No UPS and no generator

· B: UPS with optional generator

· C: UPS, generator with +1 maintenance support

· D: UPS and generator with +2 support

I’ve argued for years that high-minute UPS and generators are a poor investment. We design services to be able to maintain SLA through server hardware or software error. If a service is hosted over a large number of data centers, the loss of an entire data center should not impact the ability of the service to meet the SLA. There is no doubt that this is true and there are services that exploit this fact and reduce their infrastructure costs by not deploying generators. The problem is the vast majority of services don’t run over a sufficiently large number of data centers and some have single points of failure not distributed across data centers. Essentially some services can be hosted without high-minute UPSs and generators but many can’t be. Gen4 gets around that by offering a modular design where A class has no backup and D class is a conventional facility with good power redundancy (roughly a tier-3 design).

The Gen4 design is nearly 100% composed of prefabricated parts. Rather than just the server modules, all power distribution, mechanical, and even administration facilities are modular and prefabricated. This allows for rapid and incremental deployment. With a large data center costing upwards of $200m (Cost of Power in High Scale Data Centers), an incremental approach to growth is a huge advantage.

Gen4 aims to achieve a PUE of 1.125 and to eliminate the use of water in the mechanical systems relying instead 100% on air-side economization.

Great data, great detail, and hats off to Mike and the entire Microsoft Global Foundations Services for sharing this information with the industry. It’s great to see.


Thanks to Mike Neil for pointing this posting out to me.

James Hamilton, Data Center Futures
Bldg 99/2428, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, Washington, 98052
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2 comments on “Microsoft Generation 4 Modular Data Centers
  1. jam says:

    I agree there are big opportunities to make cooling and power distribution infrastructure improvements. I can see ways to achieve big improvements using either AC or DC but I agree high voltage DC is of interest. I spoke with Rudy Kraus last week and got a run down of what your company is doing. The approach made sense to me.


  2. Ron Croce says:

    Thanks James, for discussing this issue. I definitely think that Microsoft deserves a lot of credit for sharing their vision here. Certainly, this modular data center design can play an important role in specific environments. But, more than anything, this is really all about data center efficiency and cost effectiveness. In particular, you point out the poor investment in power and cooling infrastructure including the cost of utilizing redundant UPS systems. To that point, I would argue that this is really where DC power distribution comes in. Being able to scale and distribute high voltage DC power throughout a datacenter eliminates the need for UPSs and automatic transfer switches altogether – a feat that dramatically improves efficiency, lowers power consumption and cooling requirements, and thus operating costs and TCO. Speaking of TCO, I found your power savings as associated to cost very interesting (discussed in data center knowledge here: When it comes to architecting a truly reliable, efficient and secure data center environment, DC power distribution is something that impacts a variety of industries, including everything from telcos to financial services.

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