Think big, green: Microsoft's mall-size data centers

By Patrick Thibodeau, Computerworld |  Green IT

Microsoft Corp. is developing 1 million square feet of data center space in
the U.S. in separate projects in Austin and near Chicago as it adds to its technological
capacity to provide online services.

These are huge facilities. If shopping in a large mall is tiring, imagine working
in Microsoft's new Northlake, Ill., data center, announced this week. It will
be 550,000 square feet -- about 12 acres, or more than 10 football fields --
in area, enough room to comfortably house four or five "big-box" retailers.

The company began building a 447,000-square-foot data center in Austin in July
and expects to have it operating by next summer. The Chicago center will begin
operations sometime early next spring.

But a retail store, or for that matter a fast-food restaurant, may have more
people working at it than Microsoft's massive data center in Northlake will
have. Just 30 people -- and that includes IT administrators, security and janitorial
staffers -- will tend "tens of thousands" of servers, which is as
specific as Mike Manos, senior director of data center services at Microsoft,
would get about the facility's expected computing power.

Microsoft will rely heavily on automation to run its data center, said Manos.

"When you get to a certain level of size and scale, if you are not driving
toward a significant level of automation, you are doing it all wrong, I think,"
he said.

Meanwhile, outside the walls ...

While the staff at the facility will be small, Brad Day, an analyst at Cambridge,
Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said he believes the data center will be
keeping many more people outside the center busy, especially IT vendors supplying
equipment and services. By choosing the Chicago area, Microsoft's executives
"are trying to bring their services professionals much closer to the line
of business," said Day.

Mark Levin, a consultant at benchmarking firm Metrics Based Assessments LLC,
said he suspects that Microsoft is only counting direct operations people at
the site, not the systems administrators, storage managers and database administrators,
many of whom can work remotely.

Microsoft needs data center space, in part, for some new services, including
storage space for customers to house high-definition video, music and documents
under its planned Microsoft Live Drive program.

Working with what you've got

Google is building large data centers in areas where electricity is inexpensive,
such as next to the hydropower-rich Columbia River in the Dalles, Ore., or in
rural areas. But Chicago is not without its intrinsic advantages, said Manos,
a Windy City native.

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