BusinessWeek Article, It's Too Darn Hot, The huge cost of powering—and cooling—data centers ...

Businessweek wrote an article about energy consumption in the data centers, starting the article off by drawing attention to the big data center operators all visiting Iceland. But, behind the scenes it looks like there were multiple vendors positioning to get in the article as HP, Sun, Intel, VMWare, IBM, Cassatt were all researched and/or interviewed. There is not necessarily anything new for those who follow data centers, but interesting BusinessWeek chose this as a subject.

It's a testament to the challenges companies face in operating data centers that Google (GOOG), Yahoo! (YHOO), and Microsoft (MSFT) have all checked out this remote corner of the world (although none has made a commitment so far). The reason: Iceland has a rare combination of vacant land, cheap geothermal energy, and chilly climate that makes cooling a data center nearly free.

The writer chose to emphasize the strategic battle of Green Data Centers between Google and Microsoft, as well as other industry players, Sun, IBM, HP.

So intense is the competition among tech companies to lower their costs of processing data that some treat information about their energy use like state secrets. When Google built a data center along the Columbia River in Oregon a few years ago, it bought the land through a third party so its involvement was hidden, and the city manager had to sign a confidentiality agreement. In North Carolina, the state's sunshine laws forced it to disclose the incentive package it offered Google to locate a data center there, but the company's plans for power consumption were redacted as trade secrets.

Little wonder, perhaps: In the future, the competition between Google and Microsoft in the Web search business might be determined as much by data center energy efficiency as by which company writes the best search algorithm.

And provides a short history of Microsoft's transition to a player in data center design.

Three years ago, Microsoft began to tackle the energy issue in earnest. CEO Steve Ballmer and other top executives had decided to greatly expand the services offered over the Web to consumers and businesses, including e-mail and instant messaging, to parry threats from Google. So a group of about 20 people gathered at an off-site meeting at the Salish Lodge in Redmond, Wash., with a view of a waterfall out the window, to hash out a forecast of data center needs. "We decided to take the most aggressive, craziest plan we could come up with," says Michael Manos, senior director of data center services. "In hindsight, we were conservative."

Since then, Microsoft has spent more than $2 billion building four gigantic facilities—in Chicago, Dublin, San Antonio, and Quincy, Wash. Now it's looking at locations overseas, including Iceland and Siberia. Its computing needs have doubled each year for the past three years, and Microsoft expects them to continue doubling each year for the foreseeable future.

Energy consumption is a major factor in Microsoft's planning. The company has created what it calls a "heat map" of the globe that takes into account 35 factors in site selection, including cost and availability of power. A group of scientists studies the latest advances in data center design and computing efficiency. And Manos looks for local resources he can take advantage of—such as water from a waste-treatment system that cools computers at the new data center in San Antonio. As a result of all of this effort, Manos believes his 20 data centers are 30% to 50% more efficient than the industry average.