Interview

Microsoft spills the beans on its data center strategy at AFCOM

Matt Stansberry

What does Microsoft have to offer the AFCOM attendee?
Most of the presentation focuses on two things. One is to talk about the challenges we've faced at Microsoft. But more importantly, we're going to talk about what everyone at this conference is going to face over the next two to three years and, to a large degree, show how Microsoft has solved these problems. How much of the secret sauce of operating your data centers can you give away without losing the competitive advantage?
What's competitive advantage, and what's the right thing to do? You see people solving the same problems in different ways over and over. There is not a key driver or direction to the industry because we are solving the same problem 30 other people just solved. We have to share the findings that each of us is coming up with in order to make an impact on the industry at large. How much of the secret sauce of operating your data centers can you give away without losing the competitive advantage?
The industry is very fragmented. There is a loss of efficiency opportunities. If we share and others share, we start having a converged vision of what should be in the future. Speaking of convergence, it seems like the message has taken hold in terms of infrastructure efficiency metrics like power usage effectiveness. Lots of data centers now work to make the power-and-cooling infrastructure as efficient as possible. But when will we get to the next step: measuring useful work? For example, what

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is the usefulness of an "efficient" server that runs an application twice a month?
I think it's coming. Some [of our] product groups have started to make the transition. You can't get there without effective monitoring in place. Also, exposure of that information to the developers is key. Most developers never think about energy, but we have a program that charges our developers for the energy they use. Measuring and exposing that internal chargeback brings focus to the product groups. You can't get there unless you can effectively measure what you're doing and expose it. Speaking of convergence, it seems like the message has taken hold in terms of infrastructure efficiency metrics like power usage effectiveness. Lots of data centers now work to make the power-and-cooling infrastructure as efficient as possible. But when will we get to the next step: measuring useful work? For example, what is the usefulness of an "efficient" server that runs an application twice a month?
We're looking at using containers inside our future data centers. One of the things we like about them is we can take a bunch of servers and look at the output of that box and look at the power it draws. At the end of the day, we can determine, "What is the IT productivity of that unit? How many search queries were executed per box? How many emails sent or stored?" You can get into some really interesting metrics. A lot of people say you can't look at the productivity of a data center, but if you compartmentalize it -- not as small as the server level, but at some chunk in between -- you can measure productivity. Does data center chargeback work at Microsoft?
The data center is a utility function. Everyone uses the common resources without a real understanding of the business impact. I read an article recently that said 30% of IT professionals don't believe power is a challenge, and they're wrong. It's a large component of the operating expenses to running the business. Most of these people aren't exposed to the power bill -- they just don't have the data. If you don't expose how much it costs you to run those facilities, they can't manage to a problem they don't know they have yet. Even if you have a fairly rudimentary chargeback model, once you start measuring it, you can find better ways to measure. I fundamentally believe chargeback has had an effect on Microsoft. Does data center chargeback work at Microsoft?
All of our charges scale by power. I think that there are very few organizations that are doing this. Because we're doing this, Hotmail is micromanaging how much power is being used by their equipment. There are arguments over a watt here and there. You would be amazed. I've heard that over the past three years, Microsoft's server footprint has grown 100% year over year. What's driving this demand?
It's really tied to a couple of things. Ray Ozzie [the chief software architect at Microsoft] and Bill Gates announced their software-plus-services strategy around three years ago. The organization has fallen in lockstep behind that. We've seen this tremendous boom within the company to drive more services online, plus growth of our existing base of services. Hotmail and instant messeng[ing] are two of the biggest platforms on the Internet. One product group said, "We're going to launch this year," and we said, "How many work items are you going to have?" They expected 100,000 users within the first year. Within four months, there were 30 million users. Any service you launch has the potential to get very large very quickly. Microsoft -- and a lot of other mega-data center companies -- have built data centers in more remote locations, away from major metropolitan areas, near hydropower. While this probably decreases the energy bill, what's the tradeoff in fiber diversity?
There is an interesting thing called the clustering effect. In the clustering effect, several people come build data centers in the same location. A community ecosystem pops up, and the more data centers you have in an area, the more suppliers, fiber companies and technical reps show up. Take Quincy, Washington. There was some fiber there when we first located there, but now with the boom more fiber providers are coming. We're seeing that elsewhere as well. If there is a critical mass, fiber providers don't want to ignore it. But it may take someone as large as Microsoft [building a facility] to spur an investment. Will data center energy efficiency become mandated by regulatory agencies?
There are massive efforts afoot in government and regulatory agencies. The CEO of the company will have to start reporting carbon emissions and energy usage, and that [responsibility] is going to be shifted to the IT department that maintains the data centers. Most data center professionals haven't thought about this today. It's going to be a fairly tricky affair. There is emerging legislation in Europe and Asia. [In the U.S.], we've been attending the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] forums, and it's not a question of if, but when, it is coming and what metrics will be required to report on this. It'd be far better for the people who run and operate data centers to come up with metrics that mean something. Will data center energy efficiency become mandated by regulatory agencies?
It's all about being ahead of the curve and helping regulators to come up with the right thing as opposed to just letting it happen.

This week, stay tuned for live AFCOM updates on SearchDataCenter.com. and our Server Specs blog.. Matt Stansberry is SearchDataCenter.com's senior site editor. Write to him about your data center concerns at mstansberry@techtarget.com.


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