Microsoft Cargo Container Data Center comes Online

Recently I ran into a friend who was reading chapter 14 of How We Test Software at Microsoft.  He commented on the picture in the book of the Rackable Ice Cube container full of servers.  This was pretty cool to think about purchasing servers pre-racked in a cargo container.  We joked that for our next purchase of machines for the lights out automation lab we could just order one of these, park it on the fourth floor of the parking garage near the big fan that pulls air up and out of the garage, and then run a few extension cords and Ethernet cables down to it.  Done.

We'd have our new machines online in no time and we'd lose just a couple parking spaces.  That was better than giving up office space for lab machines.

IceCube containerized data center module from Rackable

Of course it wouldn't really be that easy but it is fun to think outside of the box, or cargo container, at times. 

Cargo Container Data Centers are Real and growing 

The funny thing was my friend thought that this whole Cargo Container idea was new and cool.  He got excited all over again when on June 29th Microsoft announced that it would be bringing two new data centers online.  The one in Chicago is a huge facility designed to be a container based data center.  Even though I wrote about this in HWTSaM, I only did enough research to present what it was. I did not take the time to research the origins of container based data center modules nor really research where we might be headed.  For this post, I decided to spend a few hours digging through old blog posts and updating my knowledge.  I found a few very interesting posts and links that are well worth sharing with everyone.

First off, Google was awarded a patent on container based modular data centers.   The patent was originally filed back in 2003.  Recently Google announced it has been using containers in its data centers since 2005.  Below I have a link to a video on the subject.

So, clearly this idea has been around a few years and even been used in production for several years.  The new Microsoft data center looks to be very advanced in terms of power management and cooling.  We can see that the innovation isn't just about racking machines in a big metal box, there are a lot of innovations happening in this space to include the actual design of the data center.  Check out this cool animation Microsoft produced a while back on a concept container based data center.  I love the thought that the data center might not even need to have a roof on it.

No Roof and No Floor, let's take the data center off-shore

Back in 2004 I was working on the new SDET career stage profiles with several members of the Microsoft Test Leadership Team (MS TLT) when we wondered off topic.  Electrical power costs were spiking again and our lab budgets were getting squeezed.  One of us, I'm pretty sure it was Darrin, chimed in and said, "we should just take all the lab machines, put them on a boat and park it in what ever harbor had the cheapest power and be done with it.  If they raised prices we'll just unplug the machines and drive the ship to a new location."  Everyone thught it was a great idea if a bit impractical with current technology.


We probably should have explored the idea some more.  I found another Google patent application and this one is for a water-based data center.  They have some really good ideas on heat management and using the ocean to generate some of the electricity needed to run the data center.  The more I think about a water-based data center the more I see a tie in for an action movie.  I could see a serious James Bond or Mission Impossible sequence here where the agent has to sneak aboard a floating data center, find the right server, and copy the hard drive to a portable device without being detected. 


Seriously though there are some very interesting financial and legal advantages to this idea as well as good old fashioned positive environmental impacts.  On the financial side you can avoid realestate taxes and avoid dealing with local permitting processes when you don't use land.  If the servers are offshore do local laws around gambling or sales tax still apply for transactions that happen on these servers.  If the data center is in international waters, what laws apply and how do you assess the impact to GNP for a country?  Also the ocean is a much better vehicle for releasing the heat generated by servers so a floating data center would certainly need much less air conditioning to cool the equipment.  This would have a very positive impact on the data centers overall Power Usage Effectiveness


Most of the links below can also be found by tracking James Hamilton's blog perspectives.  I have him in my RSS feed and recommend his blog to everyone tracking innovations in high scale computing.   


Cargo Container Data Centers


Googles cargo container DC links


Water Based data Center Links



Comments (2)

  1. Hello Ken,

    WOW, a data center on a boat! that sounds crazy but as You pointed there are financial and legal advantages. I haven’t still seen a container mounted data center here in Bogota, but if economic crisis continues I guees it’will popularize.


    Javier Andrés Cáceres Alvis

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