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Microsoft plans Russian data center

Company says it has inked an IT deal with the Siberian region of Irkutsk, but says it hasn't made up its mind where its Russian facility will be located.

As if the Microsoft vs. Google battle didn't already resemble a game of Risk, the software giant announced plans to move into Irkutsk.

The software maker confirmed Monday that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the regional Siberian government, but said that it is too soon to say whether Irkutsk will be the site of a planned data center in Russia.

"Though Microsoft Russia is working on potential data center construction in Russia, we are still far from final site selection," the software maker said in a statement.

Microsoft has been on a building spree of late, recently announcing plans to move into Chicago, to go along with existing efforts in Quincy, Wash., San Antonio, Texas, and Dublin, Ireland.

Building all of these massive server farms is necessary, not only for the Windows Live effort, but also as Microsoft adds services components to other products, such as Office, SharePoint, and Exchange.

"All of the Microsoft product groups are going to have to have some online component to them," said Mike Manos, Microsoft's senior director of data center services. "One of the outgrowths of that has been the data center program." His role, he said, is making sure that the company's server capacity is not the "binding gate" to the company's expansion.

"You never want to have infrastructure be the reason you can't grow your business," he said in a recent interview.

Manos said that Microsoft has 35 different criteria when choosing a site, things like access to water and power, electricity prices and data fiber capacity. The company has created a heat map of the world, down to the local level.

"It literally colors the world from red to green," Manos said.

Each of the sites Microsoft has chosen so far has unique attributes, he said. In San Antonio, for example, the company makes use of recycled water. That's better for the environment he said, but is also green in another sense.

"Data centers consume a lot of water," Manos said. "Using gray or recycled water is not as expensive as using water out of the municipal system."

In Chicago, Microsoft's data center is being built at the site of a dilapidated warehouse. It's also being built by an outside company, Ascent, which had picked out the site and approached Microsoft about being one of several tenants. In the end, Microsoft negotiated to be the site's only tenant and to have control over how the facility is built.

"By and large, the movement forward is for us to build and operate our own (data centers)," Manos said. "Where it makes sense to lease we take a look at it. At the size and scale we are at, co-location doesn't make sense."

Another plus of Chicago, Manos said, is the ability to use the Windy City's frigid winter weather to provide natural cooling--a benefit that Siberia could certainly offer as well. As for the potential Irkutsk location, it has the added benefit of giving a new threat to Microsoft managers. Mess up, and you really might be sent to Siberia.