Microsoft runs its datacenters on 'Autopilot'

There are lots of components beyond just the racks of Windows Server boxes that are keeping Microsoft's online properties up and running. Microsoft's cloud infrastructure is comprised of many evolving parts. How well will it mesh with the Linux-powered Yahoo back-end infrastructure, if Microsoft's proposed bid for Yahoo goes through?

With all eyes on what Microsoft is doing in the online-advertising space, it's easy to give short shrift to the datacenter and back-end infrastructure that is powering not just adCenter, but all of Microsoft's various Live services.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer reminded Wall Street analysts earlier this week that the cloud infrastructure is key to how Microsoft goes forward with Software+Services (S+S). During his February 4 Strategic Update in New York, Ballmer told analysts:

"And a lot of the things that we have been investing in, in terms of cloud platform, which themselves have no direct business model but come to market as servers, as desktops, et cetera, it will require reasonably significant investments to start commercializing that cloud platform....

"What's the future of Windows, what's the future of corporate desktop value? Each and every one of these businesses, on top of a consistent cloud platform, transitions to have additional revenue and profit opportunities, based upon this transformation to the cloud."

There are lots of components beyond just the racks of Windows Server boxes that are keeping Microsoft's online properties up and running. Some of the other pieces that have come across my radar screen (thanks to tips from various sources who requested anonymity):

* AutoPilot: The management system for Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger and Live Search services. Word is Microsoft is extending AutoPilot to handle every Windows Live service, as well as some other members of its Live and Online families. AutoPilot performs tasks like network monitoring, power monitoring, performance monitoring, analysis, etc. It also will enable Microsoft to use commodity hardware in deploying its datacenter infrastructure.

* Bedrock: The core shared publishing platform for Live

* Shuttle: The feed-management system for Live. I'm not sure how this fits (or doesn't) with Microsoft's FeedSync, which is one of Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's pet projects.

* Fuse: A SQL Server diagnostics/monitoring system

* Cloud DB: The project via which Microsoft is scaling out its back-end structured data store. Cloud DB will be the storage platform for many of the Windows Live services and applications. The team is working to make SQL Server more fault tolerant, scalable and highly available.

Microsoft officials have been playing up their desire to combine their datacenter assets with those from Yahoo in order to maximize network effects as one of the primary rationales for Microsoft's proposed Yahoo takeover. As others have pointed out, Yahoo's back-end infrastructure -- which is as involved and complex as Microsoft's, no doubt -- is powered heavily by Linux and other open-source software.

Sounds like a daunting task to combine the two. Maybe Microsoft should just let Yahoo's datacenters run Linux and use that as another way to study its competition...