Friday, October 2, 2009

Not Underground But Cool!!! Microsoft’s Chicago Data Center

Inside Microsoft’s Chicago Data Center

October 1st, 2009 : Rich Miller
A view of the container area in the new Microsoft data center in Chicago.

A view of the container area in the new Microsoft data center in Chicago (click to see a larger version of this image).

Microsoft’s new $500 million Chicago data center is one of the largest data centers ever built, spanning more than 700,000 square feet. But it’s also one of the most unusual, with its garage-like lower level optimized for 40-foot shipping containers packed with web servers, while a second story houses traditional raised-floor data center space. Microsoft opened the facility for a tour on Sept. 30.

About a dozen parking spaces in the ”container canyon” (shown above) are occupied by containers packed with servers and, in some cases, equipment to power and cool the servers. Each row of containers plugs into a spine providing hookups on the lower level, with power distribution equipment on a mezzanine level. With double-stacked containers, portable stairs can be wheeled in to provide access for maintenance.

This view of the container area also provides a look at the ceiling, where you can see large ductwork for the cooling system, as well as the extensive conduits for power and fiber.

The interior of a 40-foot container inside the new Microsoft Chicago data center, packed with servers on either side of a center aisle (click to see a larger version of this image).

The interior of a 40-foot container inside the new Microsoft Chicago data center, packed with servers on either side of a center aisle (click to see a larger version of this image).

One of the advantages of a container-based design is that the facility needs only to provide the hookups for electricity, chilled water and network connectivity. This setup can accomodate containers – known as “Pre-Assembled Components” or PACs – from different vendors featuring a variety of designs and technology.

The container pictured above uses a center aisle configuration, with rows of equipment on either side.

Rich Miller

More than 2,000 servers can fit inside a container, with the tight space allowing for granular control of airflow and cooling. The density is ideal for providing scalability for the Microsoft Live online services powered by the Chicago facility.

More than 2,000 servers can fit inside a container, with the tight space allowing for granular control of airflow and cooling. The density is ideal for providing scalability for the Microsoft Live online services powered by the Chicago facility.

Other containers used in Microsoft’s new Chicago facility feature a “side aisle” configuration, with a single row of densely packed servers. In addition to flexibility in the IT gear inside the box, Microsoft’s approach also works with cooling equipment residing in the same container as the servers or in a separate unit.

“We publish an RFP (Request for Proposal) spec, and vendors can do single stack or double stack,” explained Sean Farney, Microsoft’s data center manager for the Chicago facility. The containers come pre-populated with servers and support equipment, eliminating the need to unpack and install 2,000 servers.

t, 2009 : Rich Miller

A look at the water storage towers at the Chicago data center site, from a photo in late 2008.

A look at the water storage towers at the Chicago data center site during construction last winter.

With 700,000 square feet of space and the potential to hold as many as 300,000 servers, the Chicago facility requires some industrial strength infrastructure. That includes:

  • 11 diesel generators, each supplying 2.8 megawatts of power
  • 11 electrical substations and power rooms
  • 12 chillers, each with a capacity of 1,260 tons

There’s also an extraordinary amount of electric conduit and enormous cooling ducts and water pipes to move the power and cooling throughout the facility.

2009 : Rich Miller

The entrance to the new Microsoft data center in Northlake, Ill.

The entrance to the new Microsoft data center in Northlake, Ill.

Microsoft has completed the first phase of its Chicago data center, which can accommodate as many as 56 data center containers. When additional capacity is needed, a second phase that can hold an additional 56 containers will be brought online. The facility also has four 12,000-square-foot server rooms on its upper level that use a traditional raised design with a hot and cold aisle.

That’s a lot of capacity, aligned with Microsoft’s great expenctations for its cloud computing operations. “Today’s opening is the next evolutionary step in building out our cloud computing infrastructure,” said Arne Josefsberg, General Manager of Infrastructure for Microsoft Global Foundation Services.

Want to see even more? Microsoft has posted a video of one of the containers being installed in the Chicago facility (a process we described in our coverage yesterday). You’ll need to have Microsoft’s Silverlight installed to view the video.

Microsoft ( gave a tour of its massive 700,000 square foot data center in a Chicago suburb, which features 40-foot-long containers packed with servers.

First announced in June via its blog, along with its Dublin facility, the Northlake data center began operations July 20th to support Microsoft's Software-plus-Services strategy and the new Bing search engine, as well as other online services.

The $500 million data center was scheduled to open a few months earlier, but Microsoft delayed things due to the ongoing recession.

The data center offers 30MW of critical power in Phase 1 with an additional 30MW to be pre-positioned for future growth.

Currently, the facility can house up to 56 containers, and will double the amount in its second phase, which is currently in the form of shell space. All together, the data center will hold 112 containers with 224,000 servers.

The enormous lower level has a high ceiling and diagonal parking spaces where the container stacks are stored.

There are already 12 containers installed, comprised of 10 double-stacked versions and two single-story containers.

The facility uses outside air to reduce its use of chillers, which require a lot of energy. Despite having 12 large chillers on site, Microsoft says it will only resort to using them when the temperature is too warm to use economization.

Located in a warehouse in an industrial district, which the company would not disclose, the area is ideal in that it is close to affordable and abundant power, and is at the top of a major Internet connection point that houses major east-west and north-south fiber routes.

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Underground Secure Data Center Operations

Technology based companies are building new data centers in old mines, caves, and bunkers to host computer equipment below the Earth's surface.

Underground Secure Data Center Operations have a upward trend.

Operations launched in inactive gypsum mines, caves, old abandoned coal mines, abandoned solid limestone mines, positioned deep below the bedrock mines, abandoned hydrogen bomb nuclear bunkers, bunkers deep underground and secure from disasters, both natural and man-made.

The facility have advantages over traditional data centers, such as increased security, lower cost, scalability and ideal environmental conditions. There economic model works, despite the proliferation of data center providers, thanks largely to the natural qualities inherent in the Underground Data Centers.

With 10,000, to to over a 1,000,000 square feet available, there is lots of space to be subdivided to accommodate the growth needs of clients. In addition, the Underground Data Centers has an unlimited supply of naturally cool, 50-degree air, providing the ideal temperature and humidity for computer equipment with minimal HVAC cost.

They are the most secure data centers in the world and unparalleled in terms of square footage, scalability and environmental control.

Yet, while the physical and cost benefits of being underground make them attractive, they have to also invested heavily in high-speed connectivity and redundant power and fiber systems to ensure there operations are not just secure, but also state-of-the-art.

There initially focused on providing disaster recovery solutions, and backup co-location services.

Clients lease space for their own servers, while other provides secure facilities, power and bandwidth. They offers redundant power sources and multiple high-speed Internet connections through OC connected to SONET ring linked to outside connectivity providers through redundant fiber cables.

Underground Data Centers company augments there core services to include disaster recovery solutions, call centers, NOC, wireless connectivity and more.

Strategic partnering with international, and national information technology company, enable them to offer technology solutions ranging from system design and implementation to the sale of software and equipment.

The natural qualities of the Underground Data Centers allow them to offer the best of both worlds premier services and security at highly competitive rates.

Underground Data Centers were established starting in 1990's but really came into there own after September 11 attacks in 2001 when there founders realized the former mines, and bunker offered optimal conditions for a data center. The mines, and bunkers offered superior environmental conditions for electronic equipment, almost invulnerable security and they located near power grids.

Adam Couture, a Mass.-based analyst for Gartner Inc. said Underground Data Centers could find a niche serving businesses that want to reduce vulnerability to any future attacks. Some Underground Data Centers fact sheet said that the Underground Data Center would protect the data center from a cruise missile explosion or plane crash.

Every company after September 11 attacks in 2001 are all going back and re-evaluating their business-continuity plans, This doesn't say everybody's changing them, but everybody's going back and revisiting them in the wake of what happened and the Underground Data Center may be just that.

Comparison chart: Underground data centers

Five facilities compared
Name InfoBunker, LLC The Bunker Montgomery Westland Cavern Technologies Iron Mountain The Underground
Location Des Moines, Iowa* Dover, UK Montgomery, Tex. Lenexa, Kan. Butler County, Penn.*
In business since 2006 1999 2007 2007 Opened by National Storage in 1954. Acquired by Iron Mountain 1998.
Security /access control Biometric; keypad; pan, tilt and zoom cameras; door event and camera logging CCTV, dogs, guards, fence Gated, with access control card, biometrics and a 24x7 security guard Security guard, biometric scan, smart card access and motion detection alarms 24-hour armed guards, visitor escorts, magnetometer, x-ray scanner, closed-circuit television, badge access and other physical and electronic measures for securing the mine's perimeter and vaults
Distance underground (feet) 50 100 60 125 220
Ceiling height in data center space (feet) 16 12 to 50 10 16 to 18 15 (10 feet from raised floor to dropped ceiling)
Original use Military communications bunker Royal Air Force military bunker Private bunker designed to survive a nuclear attack. Complex built in 1982 by Louis Kung (Nephew of Madam Chang Kai Shek) as a residence and headquarters for his oil company, including a secret, 40,000 square foot nuclear fallout shelter. The office building uses bulletproof glass on the first floor and reception area and 3-inch concrete walls with fold-down steel gun ports to protect the bunker 60 feet below. Limestone mine originally developed by an asphalt company that used the materials in road pavement Limestone mine
Total data center space (square feet) 34,000 50,000 28,000 plus 90,000 of office space in a hardened, above-ground building. 40,000 60,000
Total space in facility 65,000 60,000 28,000 3 million 145 acres developed; 1,000 acres total
Data center clients include Insurance company, telephone company, teaching hospital, financial services, e-commerce, security
monitoring/surveillance, veterinary, county government
Banking, mission critical Web applications, online trading NASA/T-Systems, Aker Solutions, Continental Airlines, Houston Chronicle, Express Jet Healthcare, insurance, universities, technology, manufacturing, professional services Marriott International Inc., Iron Mountain, three U.S. government agencies
Number of hosted primary or backup data centers 2 50+ 13 26 5
Services offered Leased data center space, disaster recovery space, wholesale bandwidth Fully managed platforms, partly managed platforms, co-location Disaster recovery/business continuity, co-location and managed services Data center space leasing, design, construction and management Data center leasing, design, construction and maintenance services
Distance from nearest large city Des Moines, about 45 miles* Canterbury, 10 miles; London, 60 miles Houston, 40 miles Kansas City, 15 miles Pittsburgh, 55 miles
Location of cooling system, includng cooling towers Underground Underground Above and below ground. All cooling towers above ground in secure facility. Air cooled systems located underground. Cooling towers located outside
Chillers located above ground to take advantage of "free cooling." Pumps located underground.
Location of generators and fuel tanks Underground Above ground and below ground Two below ground, four above ground. All fuel tanks buried topside. Underground Underground
*Declined to cite exact location/disatance for security reasons.