InformationWeek: Microsoft's CBlox, Container Data Center

InformationWeek has an interview with Microsoft's Mike Manos on containerized data centers with CBlox.

Microsoft To Mainstream Containerized Data Centers With C-Blox

The server-packed shipping units allow Microsoft to run its entire $500 million Northlake facility with a continuous staff of little more than 20 or 30 employees.

By J. Nicholas Hoover
April 8, 2008 05:07 PM

For all the talk Sun Microsystems (NSDQ: JAVA) and Rackable raised about building data centers from stacks of shipping containers, another company, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), is finally delivering one of the first real case studies by building a container-based data center itself.

Several companies have come out with containerized data center products, including Sun's MD S20 (formerly known as Project Blackbox), Rackable's Integrated Concerto Environment Cube (ICE Cube), and Verari's Forest. These have been largely marketed as products suited for portable data center needs and disaster recovery and as additions to existing data centers, but Microsoft is taking a more comprehensive approach.

The first floor of Microsoft's $500 million Northlake, Ill., data center, which is currently under construction, will house between 150 and 220 industry-standard 40-foot shipping containers holding between 1,000 and 2,000 physical servers apiece, or somewhere between 150,000 and 440,000 servers in total. According to Microsoft general manager of data center services Michael Manos, that's as many as 11 times the number of servers a conventional data center that size would have.

"We really look at containers as an opportunity to increase scale and drive even more efficiency into our data centers," Manos said in an interview. "We've upped the unit of storage from one server to a rack of servers to a container."

Microsoft has developed its own specifications that include, for example, configuration for electrical components and the layout of physical servers, for its containers. Those specs make Microsoft's containers different from anything on the market today, and a potential opportunity for future Microsoft products. The containers, which Microsoft calls C-blox, are largely self-contained and will require very little hands-on maintenance.

Microsoft has the PR momentum.  Part of Mike's presentation at AFCOM/Data Center World is the problem with hoarding of information limiting the innovation in data center energy efficiency.

It will be interesting as other companies step up their efforts, and whether they share information. Yahoo is presenting at Uptime Institute's Symposium 2008. Google???