Microsoft: 300,000 Servers in Container Farm

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Microsoft will be able to pack up to 300,000 servers into the data center “container farm” it is building on the first floor of its new Chicago data center. By packing the 40-foot shipping containers with data center equipment, Microsoft will be able to manage extraordinarily dense server environments.

“We’ll move from about 400 to 450 watts per square foot to 1,200 watts a square foot,” said Debra Chrapaty, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Global Foundation Services. “Containers are really, really cool.”

Those specs were among the many big numbers shared by Chrapaty in her hour-long keynote address at the recent Microsoft Management Summit, which was noted earlier this week by Dave Ohara, who posted video of the keynote (Windows Media).

Microsoft hasn’t disclosed its total number of servers, but Chrapaty told the MMS audience that the company’s infrastructure is growing by 10,000 servers per month. Here’s some context for that number: Last week we noted that Facebook now has 10,000 servers powering its platform. That means that every month Microsoft is essentially adding a Facebook worth of servers.


Chrapaty predicted that Microsoft’s growth will accelerate to 20,000 servers per month in the next several years. Driving that trend is Microsoft’s use of customized data center containers, which it calls CBlox, to handle higher power and server density. The company plans to install 150 to 220 of its customized containers in the $500 million Chicago facility. This approach allows Microsoft to rapidly add thousands of servers, which are packed into containers which can be dropped off and hooked up. (For more, check out interior images of a CBlox container, and a video of the Chicago container design).

Some in the industry say server counts are not a terribly meaningful metric, given the range of uses and configurations for servers. They provide a temptation to apply crazy data center math to calculate other business metrics (sorry, won’t be doing that here). That’s one of the reasons both Microsoft and Google don’t disclose total server counts.

But the capacity of the Chicago facility is a clear sign of Microsoft’s drive towards massive scalability as it shifts it focus to a cloud computing approach. By any measure, 300,000 servers is a boatload of computing power. Microsoft will need it as it adapts to delivering online services in addition to desktop software.

And make no mistake: the Microsoft data center team is fiercely competitive, especially when it comes to its primary rival, Google. In her keynote, Chrapaty made a reference to “other companies” with high-profile data center projects. “I never say the name in public, because it just reinforces their brand,” said Chrapaty.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.