cnet news has a video interview of Daniel Costello and Christian Belady.
Many of your recognize Christian. Daniel is not as well known, and brains behind the 4th generation Microsoft data center.
But Microsoft has indicated how the next generation of data center will improve upon the Chicago design.
Moving to containers allows Microsoft to bring in computing capacity as needed, but still requires the company to build the physical building, power and cooling systems well ahead of time. The company's next generation of data center will allow those things to be built in a modular fashion as well.
Daniel had an interview with PCworld that gives you some ideas of his thinking.
"The idea of modular, portable data centers is key to the industry's future," said Daniel Costello, Microsoft director of data center research, in a presentation at GigaOM's Structure 08 conference in San Francisco. "That's why I'm here to talk about data centers, not just for Microsoft but for our customers as well."
Buying these boxes from server vendors can be more energy-efficient and cost-effective than building a new, traditional data center, he said, and Microsoft sees them as more than just a way to add extra computing capacity at short notice. "We see them as a primary packaging unit," he said.
Using shipping containers is part of an effort by Microsoft to radically rethink its data centers, as it tries to add more computing capacity in a way that is cost effective and power efficient. "At Microsoft, we're questioning every component in the data center, up to and including the roof," Costello said. That includes "eliminating concrete from our data center bills."
"The definition of a datacenter has changed. It's not just bricks and mortar any more, and moving forward, we think it can be a lot more energy efficient," he said.
But vendors building portable data centers today are filling them with equipment that was designed for traditional data centers. "Moving forward, we need to design systems specifically for this form factor. If we look at the containers, that form factor will change over time as well."
Microsoft has approached every major server vendor about providing it with equipment, Costello said. He said he thinks "all major vendors" will offer portable data centers within the next two years. Vendors offering them today include Sun Microsystems, Verari Systems, Rackable Systems and American Power Conversion.
The cost benefits come partly from economies of scale. Shipping 2,000 servers in a container is more cost-effective than shipping and installing separate racks, and portable data centers don't require raised floors or as much wiring.
They can offer a better "power unit efficiency" ratio than do traditional data centers, he said. PUE is a measure of a data center's power efficiency. If a server demands 500 watts and the PUE of a data center is 3.0, the power from the grid needed to run the server will be 1500 watts, according to a definition from the Green Grid industry consortium.
"We've seen PUE at a peak of 1.3" in modular data centers, Costello said, compared with between 1.6 and 2.0 for a traditional data center.
The containers can accommodate 1,000 watts per square foot, allowing companies to power a lot more servers in a given area, he said. Many companies are unable to add more equipment to their data centers because power supplies and cooling equipment are at maximum capacity. The portable data centers are an alternative to building new facilities or extending old ones.
Daniel mentions some of the downsides of containers.
There are some drawbacks and plenty of questions to be answered, he said. Some of the cons include a higher cost of failure if the power to a container is cut off, as well as new risks in terms of regulatory compliance. In addition, portable data centers offered today can't accommodate servers from multiple vendors, he said.