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
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