In my career I have seen near 100 datacenters of various sizes and of various standards. One that I worked at was the phone company’s datacenter in Wisconsin. It was by all accounts a huge datacenter when I worked at it 20 years ago. It is a raised floor datacenter with about two football fields of floor space. When I worked there only half of the datacenter was filled with servers so we we would make up games to play on the weekends in the open space. One of the best games was ruckyball but we played that in the OCC. (Operations Control Center) Sorry – tangenting…

Anyway when I toured the Chicago datacenter I want not impressed initially because the raised floor datacenter didn’t appear to be all that big. It was less than half of what I had worked in 20 years before. But then I was led into another room of the same size. By the time I entered the sixth identical room I realized the immense size of this place.

The datacenter became even more interesting when we went into the basement. Instead of diesel generators, like I expected, I found a parking lot of shipping containers loaded with 2,000 to 3,000 servers. Wow. Just hook up network, power, and cooling to these boxes. They don’t go inside.

At Microsoft I have had the good fortune to have a tour of both our Chicago datacenter and our Austin datacenter. This is rare. Most employees don’t even get this opportunity once. The datacenter in Austin is a 500,000 square foot facility. It is huge.

So what’s so great about being big? Nothing except scalability. When doing servers for hosting and for the large Microsoft properties you need a lot of computing capacity. The other thing we have become very good at is lowering the operating cost. The most expensive thing in a datacenter is the cooling.

The standard measure for the cost of running a datacenter is PUE. (Power Usage Effectiveness). It is measured by taking the total facility energy and dividing it by the IT Equipment Energy. This means that the best you can do is a PUE of 1.0.

 \mathrm{PUE}  =  {\mbox{Total facility power} \over \mbox{IT equipment power}}

With our datacenters we are getting a PUE of 1.15 to 1.2 which is really good but we are striving to do even better. Another interesting thing I noticed is that there wasn’t a single server guy working at these datacenters. It was all facilities people. Only 8 to 12 full time employees at each datacenter. They were the power and cooling guys. The operations guys were all remote.

There are other factors to what we have learned. For example we have reduced the time to build out a new datacenter from the average of two years to only one year. The servers in modular shipping containers really helps out with that.

I invite you to take a virtual tour of several of our datacenters in this 10 minute video.


Microsoft’s Cloud Datacenters


For more information about our datacenters see the Global Foundations Services website:

Don’t forget to check out the whole 30 part series of “The Cloud on your Terms”: