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Seeding The Cloud

Recently, I got the chance to visit one of Microsoft's mega data centers for a tour while it was under construction. I'll just say this: creating the infrastructure needed for cloud computing isn't child's play.

Recently, I got the chance to visit one of Microsoft's mega data centers for a tour while it was under construction. I'll just say this: creating the infrastructure needed for cloud computing isn't child's play.Microsoft rolls out data centers as if they were aircraft carriers in the United States Navy. There's the Quincy-class, there's the Dublin-class, and there's the Chicago-class. I myself was at the Quincy-class San Antonio location, a monstrous ship of the online if there ever was one at 475,000 square feet.

And that's only one of the numerous (Microsoft won't give a number) $500-million-or-so data centers the company's got under construction or up and running around the world. With all that going on, Microsoft's got to have a plan in place to figure out when and where to build.

The company uses what Microsoft data center services general manager Mike Manos calls a "continuum strategy." It starts with Microsoft mapping out the world to identify the company's important data center markets. From the maps, Microsoft (duh) determines where new data centers are needed.

When Microsoft enters a market, it usually seeds the cloud at first by leasing a facility from a third party. Then, when traffic picks up or looks like it will, the company goes into mega construction mode for the sake of flexibility and control in design and implementation. Such flexibility is a necessity when you're adding more than 10,000 servers a month to your worldwide infrastructure.

So in the end, Microsoft will build many of its own data centers, but it has the expertise to do so and may be able to make its data centers (and data center software) into sort of competitive advantage. Eventually, it could turn management software like Scry and all the other one-off software its running inside its facilities, as well as all of the design elements and one-off hardware, into licensed products or (for hardware, at least) licensed designs.

I mean, they have the budget to have an R&D team completely focused on data center design and have 40 projects under way in that R&D arm. Who has the budget or need to do that other than Microsoft, IBM, Google and a handful of other technology companies?

Bottom line: Manos may have told me that "at the end of the day, we're an app company," but if Microsoft wants to stay dominant online, it believes it's going to have to become a darned good data center designer and operator, too.

What if you're not Microsoft? For the vast majority of companies building out their own data center infrastructures, leasing will be fine. It'll likely be cheaper capital-wise and operationally as well as less distracting from a strategic standpoint. But for large enterprises that need untold computing power and demand total control, they may want to stick with a buy decision.

P.S. For all of those who read this and say, OK, but what is Microsoft going to use this ridiculous amount of server energy for, check here for more, starting on Saturday. Remember that top Microsoft execs have said that almost every Microsoft product will have a services component or a version delivered as a service going forward, and that Microsoft execs also have hinted at the possibility of utility computing services a la Amazon Web Services. That's a lot of Windows Servers, SQL Servers, and so on. You can be sure that come the end of October, you'll know a lot more.

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