My PAC's better than your POD. Or is it?

My PAC's better than your POD. Or is it?

Summary: Microsoft's take on the future of the datacenter brings with it the danger of useful benchmarking metrics becoming meaningless marketing bullets. Understanding how complex systems work and interoperate is more than just a game of speeds and feeds.


Last week, in his keynote speech at the DataCenterDynamics conference in NYC, Microsoft's Global Foundation Services head Kevin Timmons announced details about the IT PACS (datacenter pods to the rest of the datacenter world, "Pre Assembled Components" to Microsoft) they will be building and selling. The following day, Steve Ballmer gives his speech on Microsoft's cloud computing plans, using pre-production pods as a backdrop. So it looks like Microsoft is taking a running leap at one of the hottest concepts being pushed in the datacenter world.

If the security guard needs a rain slicker, isn't having a louvered pod full of hardware outdoors a bad idea?This doesn't exactly come as a huge surprise; in June of 2008, Danny Costello, Microsoft's Director of Datacenter Research, said "The idea of modular, portable data centers is the key to the industry's future." So clearly, Microsoft has been planning this for quite a while.  Anyone who has attended a major Microsoft event, such as Tech-Ed or WinHEC, may have also encountered the container-based datacenters that Microsoft has been building for their own use.

Pod technology isn't new, and companies like HP have already released multiple generations of pod technologies (Larry Dignan covered last month's release of the new, smaller, HP pod.)

And frankly, my first thought when looking over the various Microsoft announcements, speeches, and press materials that talked about the pods, directly or indirectly, was to look at this picture from Microsoft and think "if the security guard needs a rain slicker, isn't having a louvered pod full of hardware outdoors a bad idea?"

But then I came upon Kevin Timmon's statement that the PUE of the pod, in testing, is 1.06. That, my friends, is a great power usage effectiveness number for a production datacenter environment. I've been doing a lot of research recently on building efficient datacenters, so that number really caught my attention.  Fortunately, my natural cynicism came to the fore.  PUE is a good metric, and the industry has been pretty good about adopting it and implementing it since its introduction in 2007 (more information about PUE can be found at The Green Grid),  but -  and it's a big but - we have to assume that Microsoft is accurately measuring and reporting on the energy being dumped into the pod, which will make the usual run-of the-mill Microsoft basher foam at the mouth.

As it is, I'm perfectly willing to accept the number. It is with the awareness, however, that the PUE they are achieving applies only to the specific equipment configuration and internal and external environmental control being applied when that measurement was taken.  And beyond that, it's basically useless as a comparison to any other environment.  Especially with mobile equipment such as a small PAC. Or pod. Whatever.

Having grown up with the computing industry and harking back to the days when FUD was an industry standard, I take a very jaundiced view of synthetic benchmarks being applied to complex systems. And while I consider PUE and its reciprocal number DCiE to be useful tools when designing and evaluating datacenter operations, having them bandied about as meaningful metrics for comparing operational efficiencies in a vacuum doesn't do the datacenter vendors any good.

Topics: Hardware, Data Centers, Microsoft, Storage

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  • So, you hate Microsoft...

    but what about the story being reported? Is the PAC being put outside in the open or inside - where it doesn't rain? Or are the louvers facing a cooling system? Why don't you report what was done to get to 1.06 PU or whatever?
    Roque Mocan
    • Nope

      I've more often been accused of being a fan. I'm even a Microsoft MVP. The PAC in the picture was a backdrop for the Ballmer speech; it is where it's pictured; outside. In Washington State. In the winter.

      MS hsn't released full technical details on their PAC testing. The only statement made in regard to the 1.06 PUE is that they are running their inlet temps at 95 degrees and that increasing that temp has beeen a big part of the improved PUE.
      David Chernicoff
      • Yeah, welcome David, might as well get used to it...

        No matter what you write about, no doubt you'll have people from whatever camp not paying attention to what you're writing but trying to twist your words into some bash or hype about whatever platform, o/s, etc.

        Case in point, the first reply being "so you hate microsoft...", to one of the senior editors of Windows IT Pro magazine. (@ Perlow's suggestion, I looked up your bio)

        Which brings me to my question, I subscribe to Win IT, but have never seen mention of you...were you strictly back office or did I just skim past any articles you wrote? (very possible) Did you ever have a specific 'beat'? Just curious.

        In any case, welcome! Gird up for the fanatics, you'll see them soon.
        • Thanks

          I've been doing this a long time; thanks for the positive feedback.

          regarding your question...

          I was the Director of the test lab at the magazine, and on staff, until I left in 2001 to take a CTO job with a network management tools ISV. I stayed on the masthead, writing a print column for a couple more years, then got busy, and switched to writing bi-weekly newsletters on storage and desktop operating systems, up through 2009. Most recently I've done a couple of eBooks for them, a bunch of webinars, and some presentations for the IT TV effort.

          You can find about 80% of the stuff I've done for that magazine at ; for some reason, you need to actually look at other parts opf their website and do specific searches for the eBooks, white papaers, and video stuff I've done for them. A bunch of columns and articles just don't seem to turn up no matter how you look for them.

          Hope that answers your question.
          David Chernicoff
  • british much?

    I had to look up the term 'louvered', which seems to basically be 'shutters'.

    But, the definition is basically:
    "Any of a series of narrow openings... adjustable for admitting light and air while shutting out rain."

    So, perhaps this is one time when Microsoft actually implemented something well? That, or you could say, it's just another hole in Windows. (haha. ha?)
  • Trailers

    Sure, I can imagine every fortune-500 company will want to park a trailer out behind their well-landscaped architectural masterpiece. Trailers add so much to the ambiance.

    And sure, the PAC has a great PUE number, but how many DC employees does it house? - ZERO.

    So "somewhere else" houses those Data Center people, with all of the associated energy costs necessary for people, temperature control, air quality management, computers, and so on. So that means those energy costs are not part of the Data Center, and therefore the Power Utilization Efficiency?

    Smoke-and-mirrors. Feel-good falsehoods. Rampant self-deception.

    And a new trailer-home to house it all.

    Wowee, how wonderful!
  • RE: My PAC's better than your POD. Or is it?

    Why do people want portable data centres? If disaster strikes, who knows how far away you would have to take it to get operational. So apart from the possible disaster aspect what other reasons do people want portability?