April 07, 2014

Natalie Lehrer, CloudWedge
Natalie Lehrer, CloudWedge

When it comes to cloud offerings for large enterprises, there are clearly a few standouts, in terms of scale and experience. Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft Azure and possibly Verizon Terremark come to mind. Recently, Microsoft Windows Azure has been gaining some steam in the marketplace, according to some of its direct competitors.

So, if you are fascinated with Windows Azure, you've probably wondered what types of infrastructure are used when Microsoft decides to build out new Azure datacenters. Microsoft has been operating datacenters since the late 1980s and this vast amount of experience has given its engineers an edge in datacenter efficiency and construction. Microsoft classifies its datacenters by generation. Currently, Generation 4 datacenters are the latest build. Microsoft has datacenters located all around the globe. All of the datacenters built since the beginning of the decade are built upon the Generation 4 standard.

Pushing the Limits on Efficiency

If you have experience working in a datacenter, you are probably familiar with the term PUE. PUE stands for Power Usage Effectiveness and is a simple mathematical calculation that helps you determine datacenters efficiency. To calculate PUE, you would divide the total facilities power usage by the IT equipment's power usage. To clarify, the total of the facility's power must be measured at the utility meter and the IT equipment's power includes the computing, storage and networking equipment. Microsoft claims that Azure Generation 4 datacenters achieve one of industry's lowest measurements. The industry norm for PUE is around 2 to 2.5. Azure Generation 4 has a PUE near 1.2.

ITPAC: Fast Data Infrastructure

Microsoft has streamlined the datacenter build-out process using what is called an ITPAC. An ITPAC is an Information Technology Pre-Assembled Component. These pre-assembled components are the reason that Azure is able to operate so efficiently. This modular datacenter can be added to existing Azure datacenters by simply placing the storage-like container strategically inside the datacenter. As soon as cabling, cooling components and other necessities become interconnected, the ITPAC is ready to be provisioned using a combination of Hyper-V and SCCM 2012 R2.

Windows Azure has datacenters located all around the globe. Azure will continue adding ITPACs into its datacenters to accommodate the oncoming hybrid cloud blitz as predicted by Microsoft. Each Azure datacenter can house hundreds of thousands of bare metal servers which can translate into millions of virtual machines. ITPACs have revolutionized the way large datacenters are built out. Traditional datacenters would first build out racks, run cabling and pop in the servers. This process could take several months. Installing a new ITPAC takes hours.

Microsoft's ITPAC consists of a base frame, cage framing, raised flooring, prebuilt server racks, a transformer, a control panel, partitions, fans, exhaust dampers, servers, bus bars, lights, mixing dampers, air washer drain pans, air washer supports, air washers, intake louvers, filters, tillers in louvers and the outside skin of the component. Since an ITPAC is preassembled, once the unit is connected inside the datacenter, the ITPAC can begin spinning up Azure virtual machines, storage and work seamlessly along the existing Microsoft Azure datacenter infrastructure. All of the Generation 4 Azure datacenters utilize ITPAC. Many Azure datacenters use green power resources such as hydroelectricity. Azure's commitment to energy conservation not only helps the environment, it helps keep cloud server costs low.

Natalie Lehrer is a senior contributor for CloudWedge. In her spare time, Natalie enjoys exploring all things cloud and is a music enthusiast.