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Windows Azure containers on display in LA

Microsoft has transported one of its data center containers to Los Angeles, giving PDC attendees a chance to see just what the cloud-based operating system is running on.

LOS ANGELES--During Tuesday's keynote speech, Ray Ozzie outlined how Windows Azure works from a software perspective.

Across the Los Angeles Convention Center, though, developers had a chance to see just what Azure is running on. Microsoft uprooted one of its containers from its Washington data center and brought it to the Professional Developers Conference.

The container was one of the more popular attractions on the PDC show floor as attendees had a chance to peek in and even step inside the container.

It is Microsoft's fourth generation of data center design----newer even than the containers used at the recently opened Chicago data center, which CNET toured earlier this year.

It's about half as long as the containers in Chicago and holds hundreds rather than thousands of servers. On the other hand, it has its own cooling system built in and can operate in a much wider range of climates. It can operate with at a temperature of anywhere from 50 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit and anywhere from 20 percent to 80 percent relative humidity. That--combined with its rugged design--means the fourth-generation units can literally be run outdoors.

The units still require power and high-speed networking, of course, as well as water. However, they use only two to three gallons of water per minute as opposed to hundreds of gallons of water for some other designs.

The public display also allowed a chance to talk about some details Microsoft generally prefers not to talk about--such as whose servers are used. The unit on display at PDC, for example, was running Dell boxes.

The goal of the fourth-generation devices is to further reduce the amount of lead time Microsoft needs to add capacity--from a matter of months if it has to build a new data center wing to as little as six weeks to equip and install a new self-contained unit.