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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.

Microsoft's Chicago data center.
(click for image gallery)

Microsoft's already pushing the limits of database scalability with its shipping-container-based mega-data center in Chicago, but it wants to take things a step further.

As it invests more and more in cloud computing and software as a service, Microsoft is spending billions to build new data centers around the world. Getting the costs of building those data centers down and their scalability and flexibility up is task No. 1 for Mike Manos, the company's general manager for data center services, and his team.

The plan, Manos wrote in a blog post Tuesday, is to commoditize the build-out of Microsoft's data centers, assembling data center components on-site.

"Think about how a computer, car, or plane is built today. Components are manufactured by different companies all over the world to a predefined spec and then integrated in one location based on demands and feature requirements," Manos wrote. "We expect to do the same for data centers. Everything will be pre-manufactured and assembled on the pad."

Microsoft calls its new architecture the "Generation 4 Modular Data Center," or Gen 4 for short. Just as in Chicago, Gen 4 data centers will use shipping containers filled with servers as their basic building block. However, Gen 4 data centers will be built with "modular units of prefabricated mechanical, electrical, [and] security components," unlike in Chicago, where Microsoft built a permanent backbone of these components, which the containers plug into.

In a short animated video, Microsoft showed how Gen 4 characteristics could be put in place in both the company's smaller data centers and in its mega-data centers. The portion of the video showing off the Gen 4 mega-data center almost looks like a series of interconnected tiny power plants.

Microsoft refers to traditional data centers that focus on uptime, reliability, and redundancy as Generation 1 data centers. The second generation, which Microsoft has in place in Quincy, Wash., and San Antonio, are built with more energy efficiency and sustainability in mind. Third-generation facilities, like the one in Chicago, are being built for massive scalability and cost efficiency.

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