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Summary:

Microsoft recently outlined its plan for data centers as it begins its expansion into cloud services with its Azure platform, and the software company’s emphasis on commodity gear and modular components hearkens back to Henry Ford’s first production line.

Microsoft recently outlined its plan for data centers as it begins its expansion into cloud services with its Azure platform, and the software company’s emphasis on commodity gear and modular components hearkens back to Henry Ford’s first production line. Much like Ford said that customers could have “any color so long as it’s black,” Microsoft’s Kevin Timmons, general manager of data center services, is encouraging mass production and commodity parts  in order to cut deployment times and costs.

Timmons, who I interviewed two weeks ago week at Microsoft headquarters, said the company has hundreds of thousands of servers, and its vision is to deploy them wherever needed in a few weeks time. And on Tuesday he outlined how Microsoft plans to do this with little environmental impact:

Our plan for the future is to have essentially everything but the concrete pad pre-manufactured and then assembled on site: the IT, mechanical and electrical components are all part of Pre-Assembled Components that we call an “ITPAC.” We actually think of the ITPACs not as containers in a traditional sense but as integrated air-handling and IT units.

The units will be assembled entirely from commercially available recyclable components such as steel and aluminum and the cooling requirements for the ITPACs will be met by more efficient means, such as a single water hose with residential levels of pressure to control ambient temperatures. The servers will be stacked in rows, sandwiched between air intake and output vents.

The mission is to support Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service that went live formally this year (for those interested in cloud computing or data centers, check out our Structure 10 conference in June). Timmons envisions setting up tiny contained data centers in countries where those in power need to ensure the information stored on the Azure cloud stays within the country’s geographic boundaries.

That means tiny data centers in the middle of Africa or giant ones such as the one in Chicago. Check out the video below for more details, or download the presentation on the topic. What’s cool is that because Microsoft wants this sort of modular data center approach to be as cheap as possible, it’s sharing its infrastructure plans with the world in hopes that other firms embrace them, bringing greater economies of scale to the components Redmond will need.


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  1. First of all, FU for posting some POS window here that asks to download Silversucklight from this horrible excuse of a company that has suppressed competition for decades while picking our pockets as they sold us buggy, bloated crapware. Nice try in helping them get as many people as possible to download their proprietary POS.

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  2. Back on planet earth…
    I think channeling Henry Ford is the perfect metaphor for Microsoft. They seem obsessed with yesterday’s tech battles and on scale; as the world moves toward new services and personalization.

    Whatever their stock price is today, it will be no better in 5 years.

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  3. [...] Microsoft may have an industrial-scale strategy around its data center operations that seems antithetical to buying gear from startups,  its research arm shows that Redmond isn’t totally oblivious to new technologies to address [...]

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  4. [...] Microsoft may have an industrial-scale strategy around its data center operations that seems antithetical to buying gear from startups,  its research arm shows that Redmond isn’t totally oblivious to new technologies to address [...]

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  5. [...] architecture that Intel and AMD chips use is worth noting. Microsoft’s current data center strategy involves a manufacturing-line model where it uses a well-established supply chain and commodity parts that it can source easily and [...]

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