Sometimes it is difficult to imagine what the ‘Cloud’ looks like. We know it means that the data is somewhere out there in ‘the Cloud’, and that means a data centre somewhere is looking after it. And we use those Cloud services all the time - whether that’s to check our email, search the web, use a social networking site, or even just a plain web site. And they run services like Windows Live, Windows Azure, Xbox Live, Office 365, etc. Somewhere, up ‘in the Cloud’, there’s a data centre running all of this…
So what does a Cloud data centre look like?
The Microsoft Global Foundation Services team have just released a video which looks at today’s data centres, and the construction model behind them - for example, how they are cooled, and their physical configuration works. These cloud data centres support over 200 online services, and serve more than a billion customers and 20m businesses in over 70 countries every year - and you’ve definitely used them today. But very few people actually get to see inside our data centres, so the video is a chance to see it for yourself.
Building these Cloud data centres isn’t just about the conventional ‘IT’ aspect - there’s a also a huge amount of work that goes into the efficiency of the building, and especially the power usage. Data centres can be huge power-hogs, with as much data used for cooling and lighting as for running the servers. The video talks about PUE (Power User Efficiency - the measure of data centre efficiency), and how they are now building data centres which are made from recyclable materials, with a low PUE of 1.15 (about 85% more efficient than today’s ‘average’ data centre). So, although I’ve focused on what a cloud data centre looks like, what is more important is the design features that have been built in to improve energy usage, and maximise flexibility (and as you can see, to my uninformed eye, the answer to ‘What does a Cloud data centre look like’ is ‘Quite ugly’).
So, hopefully, the next time you login to Xbox live, or a student completes an online assessment, you have a better idea what’s going in the ‘Cloud’.
You can read more about the story behind the video in this commentary, and the MS Datacenter blog has a lot more detail on the whole journey from the first data centre to today’s massive, highly efficient Cloud data centres.