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Microsoft using modular design in new data center

By Donna Donowitz
January 18, 2011
According to a recent report from Data Center Knowledge, Microsoft has constructed a new modular data center in Quincy, Washington. The project is the result of years of research and planning to develop a flexible, scalable data center.

The new data center in Quincy is one of Microsoft's first entirely modular structures, but the company has been experimenting with the architecture for quite some time. The process is relatively simple on the surface, but the cooling, power and other critical functions of the data center require a complex infrastructure.

The first layer of the modular design comes in the facility's exterior wall. Rather than using concrete, the traditional exterior for data centers, Microsoft opted for steel exterior. As a result, servers and other modules are completely protected from the elements, but the outer wall allows exterior weather conditions to have a dramatic impact on the inside, service as a natural cooling solution.

"The building’s utilitarian appearance belies its many hidden innovations. The structure is virtually transparent to ambient outdoor conditions, allowing us to essentially place our servers and storage outside in the cool air while still protecting it from the elements," Kevin Timmons, general manager for data center services at Microsoft, told Data Center Knowledge.

The next layer of modular construction comes in the data center containers, each capable of holding between 400 and 2,000 servers. Each container is equipped with a ventilation system capable of performing a number of functions. One part of the system moves hot air away from the servers and out through a shaft in the roof. Another vents warm air toward the building's exterior where it is met by exterior air, cooling the servers naturally. Four cooling modules in each container also serve to regulate temperatures.

The containers themselves are entirely modular, allowing Microsoft to move them in and out of the data center based on need. The current structure contains 8 Megawatts of service, but new modules can be brought in to expand its service levels to 40 Megawatts.

Microsoft's efforts to maximize the environment's positive impact on the data center is indicative of current trends to make data centers more sustainable. Recently, General Electric announced new investments in environmentally powered solutions for the data center, Information Management reports. The investment comes in the form of purchasing Linear Power Holdings, an organization that develops high-efficiency power conversion systems.


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