At its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles this week, Microsoft is giving attendees an up-close look at a self-contained server unit from one of the company's data centers. This particular unit had been stationed outside Microsoft's data center in Washington state. It was one of the more popular attractions on the PDC show floor.
This container was put together in four days. Microsoft's goal is to reduce the lead time for using the containers to boost data center capacity from many months to as little as six weeks.
Note the blue Windows Azure signage on the container. Azure is Microsoft's operating system for cloud computing, a style of computing in which servers--lots and lots and lots of servers--host the bulk of the data and applications that users access from their local PCs, smartphones, and other devices.
This is Microsoft's fourth generation of data center design. Units like this one can operate in a much wider range of temperatures--from 50 degrees to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and from 20 percent to 80 percent relative humidity.
Like all computers, servers generate heat, so cooling and energy conservation are key considerations. The cooling system for the container shown at PDC is downright stingy in its use of water--only two to three gallons per minute, as opposed to hundreds of gallons per minute for some earlier designs.