One of the most interesting elements of Microsoft's design for its planned Generation 4 Modular Data Centers is the fact that the facilities will have no roofs. Microsoft's Mike Manos predicted this feature would generate some debate in the industry, and he was right.
Two of Manos' colleagues at Microsoft Global Foundation Services, Christian Belady and Dave Gauthier, discuss some of the feedback on the new design in a blog post today. Here's what they have to say about the roof issue:
Some people have questioned whether an open air facility is as safe against natural disasters as a traditional concrete and steel structure. We believe that it can be and we are currently taking these factors into account as part of our heat map criteria site selection activities. Of course, we also expect that our modular approach affords tremendous flexibility in addressing site specific conditions as needed.
Another significant benefit modularity offers is a smaller system failure zone versus a traditional data center. For example, a fire in a data center could bring the whole facility down in traditional construction (or have the fire department activate the emergency power off). Alternatively, in a modularized data center the fire could actually be isolated to only a subset of modules and thus provide greater resiliency.
Christian and Dave also talk about the potential for modular design to lower Microsoft's cost for its data centers.
They say the new design may reduce capital investments by 20 to 40 percent by creating a "competitive and innovative supplier landscape," a trend we've previously seen from Digital Realty Trust and IBM in the industrialization of data center design.
This "plug-and-play" approach of repeatable designs and modular components will also accelerate Microsoft's data center deployment process, shrinking the timeline from 18 months to as little as three to six months, Belady and Gauthier said.
A certain scale is required for this model to work. "We recognize that these types of architectures may not work for every application or every data center provider out there," the Microsoft team writes, adding that they "hope that it sets the stage for continued healthy and dynamic dialog and sharing in this industry."
Christin and Dave talk more about the generation 4 design in a video at Microsoft TechNet (Silverlight required).