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12/3/2008
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Microsoft Plans Roofless Data Centers

The new architecture called "Generation 4 Modular Data Center," or Gen 4 for short, takes its cues from Microsoft's mega-data center in Chicago.

The problem with all of these models, Manos and his colleagues wrote, is that Microsoft needs to build data centers to be just right in size in order to squeeze out the most energy efficiency. Gen 4 is all about smart growth. Build the data centers too big, and they use too much power and too many resources. Build them too small, and Microsoft can't support all of its customers.

Microsoft believes that Gen 4 data centers will cost 20% to 40% less to build than older data centers of similar scale since they'll require much less initial data center build-out and since components will come pre-manufactured. One of the most striking elements of Microsoft's new data center strategy is that the data center has no roof. Since the servers are all packaged inside self-sufficient shipping containers, there's no need for one.

The plan is also to decrease the need for water chillers by using ambient air to cool Gen 4 data centers, much as many companies are already doing with new energy-efficient data centers. "Our sincerest hope is that Gen 4 will completely eliminate the use of water," Manos writes. Considering Microsoft's San Antonio data center has two water tanks the size of city water towers, this would be a big feat for the company as it tries to save resources.

For noncritical, geo-redundant apps, Microsoft is even specing out its servers to work with a massively wide range of temperatures and humidity that goes far beyond what's found in data centers today.

Microsoft has been increasingly open about its data center architecture in the last two years, part of twofold strategy to make sure potential customers understand the scope and capabilities of Microsoft's data centers while also providing learning opportunities for companies struggling to come up with viable strategies for their own future data center build-outs. "Sharing best practices is paramount and will drive the industry forward," Manos wrote.

The company has been working on development and prototyping for a year, but it's unclear where Microsoft will build its first Gen 4 data center.

<a href="http://video.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=b4d189d3-19bd-42b3-85d7-6ca46d97fe40" target="_new" title="Microsoft Generation 4.0 Data Center Vision">Video: Microsoft Generation 4.0 Data Center Vision</a>

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