Inside a container

Microsoft recently opened its Chicago Data Center. In its first phase, the ground floor of the facility is designed to hold up to 56 containers, each filled with anywhere from 1,800 to 2,500 servers.

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Air skates

Although the containers are heavy (and even heavier when packed with servers), air skates allow them to be moved in place with just four workers. Eight hours later, the servers are up and running.

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Second floor server room

The second floor of the Chicago Data Center is home to a more traditional server room consisting of racks of servers with cool air coming up from a raised floor.

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A lot to power

Building the data center required 2,400 tons of copper, 3,400 tons of steel, 26,000 cubic yards of concrete, and 190 miles of conduit.

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Keeping cool

Although Microsoft aims to use ambient air when it can, it also uses chillers to keep the servers cool on hotter days.

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Chill out

Keeping everything cool is made possible with 7.5 miles of chilled water piping.

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Highly automated

Although the data center is massive, it is managed with a staff of 30 to 45, including custodial and security workers. Building the facility, however, generated roughly 3,000 construction-related jobs, with the peak workforce reaching around 1,100 workers.

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Power hungry

Even with all its power saving techniques, the first phase of the data center can scale to 30 megawatts of critical power.

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Filling up

Containers will eventually house two-thirds of the servers in the data center, with the more traditional server rooms upstairs accounting for the remainder.

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A big investment

Over time, Microsoft expects to invest $500 million in the Chicago facility, just one of several existing or planned data centers.

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Powering Azure, Bing and more

Microsoft isn't saying just which services are being run out of Chicago, though the Bing posters that covered the second floor server rooms suggest one possible workload.

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Location, location, location

Microsoft and others in the industry place a huge premium on where they put their data centers, picking spots close to cheap abundant power, water, and other key ingredients. About 70 percent of a facility's economics are determined before you break ground, Microsoft executives said.

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The heartbeat of the Internet

"The hum, the background beat that you feel, it's really the heartbeat of the Internet," said Kevin Timmons, general manager of data center operations for Microsoft.

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From the outside

An exterior view of the Chicago Data Center. Because Microsoft isn't looking to attract attention, there's no identification outside. Even on the inside it's hard to tell whose facility it is, unless you look closely at a couple art pieces that note they are from Microsoft's art collection.

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