When Microsoft announced that it would fill an entire floor of its new Chicago facility with container-based data centers, we noted that it was test-driving some Verari container units at a facility in Boulder, Colorado. Yesterday Microsoft had a media event at the Boulder site, in which it showed off three containers housing servers for its Virtual Earth mapping program.
Microsoft noted that the containers were "100 percent wind powered" through offsets purchased from Boulder-based Renewable Choice Energy. While these particular units weren't powered directly by wind turbines, Microsoft has tapped into a major advantage of containers: they can easily be placed near renewable energy sources, allowing companies to chase green power to meet carbon reduction goals.
Microsoft is thinking a lot of about green power these days, as Michael Manos explained at Data Center World. Manos, Microsoft's director of data center services, believes the federal government will become more active on power issues. "Sustainability regulation is coming," he said. "The conversation is not if, but when. It's more about what we're going to require companies to report against."
With some data centers now provisioning more than 100 megawatts of power, utility capacity is a primary issue in data center site location. But it's likely that green power profiles are beginning to gain more weight as companies decide between specific cities and utilities. For now, the percentage of renewable energy vs. coal in a utility's generating base is probably serving as a tiebreaker between competing locations.
But that may change as more companies offer carbon neutrality pledges and federal agencies weigh sustainable IT as a regulatory issue. This is an area where container solutions have the potential to be disruptive, allowing companies to move computing infrastructure to places where they can run on wind, hydro or solar power. Will we see cities of container data centers springing up next to utility-scale thermal solar power plants in the Mojave Desert?
There are lots of potential scenarios, and it's hard to say how often green power plays using containers will work from an operational standpoint. But given data centers' energy use as a percentage of a company's total power bill, the math suggests these approaches will be seriously studied.