Data Center: Microsoft- The Cloud is the ‘Utility of the Future’

by Rich Miller for Data Center Knowledge

When it comes to data center design, Christian Belady isn’t afraid to shake things up. Back in 2008, Belady and his Microsoft colleague Sean James put a rack of servers in a pup tent for eight months, with 100 percent uptime.

That experiment helped the data center industry rethink assumptions about the impact of temperature and humidity on server health – which in turn convinced many data center operators to turn down the air conditioning and use more fresh air in cooling systems.

The pup tent casts a long shadow when Belady talks about coming changes in data center design. As the director of Datacenter Research at Microsoft, Belady is pondering the next phase of change in data center design.

“Cloud computing is the utility of the future,” says Belady. “I look at it as a way to distribute energy. At the end of the day, data is energy.”

Data and Power Closely Linked

So what will the cloud computing “grid” of the future look like? At a time when Internet infrastructure closely tracks the availability of cheap electricity, Belady says the key questions will involve the relationship between data and power.

“Data is really a processed form of electricity,” Belady says. “We’re part of this ecosystem: an energy pipeline. If you started from scratch, what with that whole pipeline look like? How does that change infrastructure? How can we deploy the cloud?”

These are not academic questions. Belady is the guy at Microsoft tasked with translating these big-picture concepts into data center designs that can support tens of millions of users. He says Microsoft is already developing new facilities optimized for this vision of cloud data centers as “data utilities.”

“We’ve only started to scratch the surface of what that really means,” he said. “There’s this extreme drive to lower the cost of the cloud. There has to be a financial benefit.”

Areas for Future Innovation

Where will these savings come from? And how will they change how Microsoft builds and deploys its data centers? Belady isn’t ready to say just yet. But in a recent conversation with Data Center Knowledge, Belady discussed several broad themes that are in the mix as he ponders the road ahead for Microsoft’s data centers.

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