It’s not about the size; it’s how you use it.

Building an effective and efficient datacenter infrastructure isn't about the size of the facility

Now that the mystery builder of a new $700 million datacenter in Iowa has been revealed to be Microsoft there has been an interesting undertone in the vast majority of the dozens of news stories about the new datacenter and its expected purpose.

On one hand, commentators are quick to point out that the new facility is likely to be used to support the growth of XBOX Live and Office 365, with the more astute commentators pointing out that Microsoft has a huge array of online services (over 200) and that it services more than a billion online customers. Some have focused on the commitment to energy efficiency, and Microsoft’s goal of hitting a PUE of well below 1.25 without the use of air conditioning or water cooling. And some of the more technically savvy have even drilled down into Microsoft’s current modular datacenter architecture, looking for the pros and cons of the design approach.

But almost universally, there has been a somewhat snide tone in all the coverage which compares the relatively small size of the new Microsoft facility to the datacenter monsters that have been announced by Facebook, Google and Apple over the last year. Ranging from the behemoth 1.4 million square foot datacenter announced by Facebook (with its potential $1.8 billion dollars in CAPEX), down to the 338,000 square feet most recently added by Apple. There just seems to be a subtext to many of the stories that wants to paint Microsoft as a bit of a piker in the datacenter game, pointing out how their competitors are building bigger (and somehow presumably better) facilities.

The reality is that Microsoft is completely committed to the modular approach to datacenter construction. You don’t build a million square foot building to house your IT resources when your model is to construct the facility out of 40 foot metal containers that are self-contained and ready to plug into power and networking. Their Generation 4 Modular Data Center containers are designed to be placed in the great outdoors to take advantage of nature for cooling purposes.  Connected to a spine that houses the networking and power sources, each module is a complete datacenter unit, allowing Microsoft to add capacity by adding additional containers. And on the 40 acres Microsoft purchased for this project, you can house a lot of containers.

So while you may “ooo” and “ahh” over a giant building where you can see visible evidence of a company’s growth plans, don’t underestimate the guy who builds what he needs in a way that allows him to grow quickly and economically. There’s more than one datacenter provider out there looking at empty data halls and wishing they had taken a different approach.