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Studying a server container

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.

Caption:CNET Reviews staffPhoto:Ina Fried/CNET
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Server container at PDC

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.

Updated:Caption:CNET Reviews staffPhoto:Ina Fried/CNET
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Container back

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.

The fourth-generation units are newer even than the containers found at Microsoft's recently opened Chicago data center, which CNET toured earlier this year. This one is about half as long as the containers in Chicago and holds hundreds rather than thousands of servers.

Updated:Caption:CNET Reviews staffPhoto:Ina Fried/CNET
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Inside the container

Empty, this container ways 11,000 pounds. With the servers added, the weight more than doubles to 27,000 pounds.

Updated:Caption:CNET Reviews staffPhoto:Ina Fried/CNET
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Servers in the container

Microsoft generally prefers not to talk about details such as whose servers are used in its data centers. But clearly, the unit on display at PDC was running Dell boxes.

Updated:Caption:CNET Reviews staffPhoto:Ina Fried/CNET
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Another look at the servers

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.

Updated:Caption:CNET Reviews staffPhoto:Ina Fried/CNET
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