Building your First Data Center, learn some lessons from Microsoft who say they can build for 50% less

Building your first data center can be a challenge.  Many have tackled this task over the past few years - Microsoft, Yahoo, Intuit,, eBay, Apple, and Facebook.  Building your first is an opportunity to consolidate your IT loads and reduce costs.  Given the difficulty of getting all the ducks lined up to get the project going, the budget for the first data center can be over $250 million.

DataCenterKnowledge reports on Microsoft's latest Quincy data center.

The new data center is being built next to Microsoft’s existing 470,000 square foot data center in Quincy, which was built in 2007 and is now one of the largest data centers in the world. But the new facility will be dramatically different in both its cost and design. After years of investing up to $500 million in each data center project, Microsoft plans to spend about $250 million or less on each data center going forward.

One trap I have seen many fall into is to build a big data center as the first.  Why?  Well, part of what drives this is data centers are the highest profit margin business for the construction industry and there are plenty of people who will tell you bigger is better.  The analysts will help you justify a $250 million dollar data center is the sweet spot of getting an ROI.

But, a different way of thinking about this problem is to build Ten $25 million data centers instead of one.  The first one may be a bit more than $25 million, but you can cut costs on the next, and the next, then after your third, you realize "hey there is a different way we can be doing this.  Let's change the design.  Build three more, then you go "wow we learned a lot, let's really push for something innovative."  The last three now cost $12.5 million instead of $25 million.

This is what Microsoft has done, but spending $500 million a data center.  They built Quincy 1, San Antonio, Dublin (air side economizer), and Chicago (container).  And the 4th generation data center is next.

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One additional benefit of building a $25 million data center is you don't end up with consultants, designers, and construction companies swarming to get your business.  If you choose an incremental data center design you'll learn a lot on what is real and what is hype.  Google, Microsoft, and Amazon can do this why can't you too?

BTW, another thing Microsoft has done is figured out how to build the 4th generation data center faster than the 1st generation. Part of the reason the first data center is so big is because it was so hard to get the project going.  Speed is important in addition to capabilities.

I've discussed these ideas with a few data center designers, and we have used the metaphor that data centers are designed like Battle tanks.  But not all businesses, so not all data centers should be same and if you have geo redundant SW like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, it can be more cost effective to build different data center types for the same reason why there are light and heavy tanks.

Which brings up another benefit of the Microsoft 4th generation data center, the design is not in a concrete bunker which means it could be moved much easier if need be.

This next-generation design allows Microsoft to forego the concrete bunker exterior seen in the original Quincy facility in favor of a steel and aluminum structure built around a central power spine. The data centers will have no side walls, a decision guided by a research project in which the company housed servers in a tent for eight months.

What happens if you focused on building iterative data centers with a range of capabilities to adapt to business needs and could be moved if business or power conditions change in a location.  Doesn't this sound like a better way to spend $250 million.  But, the data center ecosystem is not going to promote this idea as it changes their profits and business models.

Microsoft, Google, and Amazon's battle for cloud computing is going to continue to drive some of the most innovative thinking.  And you don't have to wait to start thinking like they do.