Microsoft Denies Humidity Changed Its Data Centre

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Microsoft has gone modular in an Iowa centre, and denies reports that humidity caused the change

Microsoft has opted for a more modular design for the second phase of its data centre in West Des Moines (Iowa) in the United States, and denies recent media reports that suggest the change was becuase of humidity.

The second phase of the data centre has a different design to the first phase. The Des Moines Register quoted local officials as saying this is because of the steamy summers in the US state.

Steamy Summers?

“I think they’re finding out that the individual units are not working so well in the Iowa humidity,” West Des Moines city planner Lynne Twedt was quoted as saying in the Des Moines Register. “They’re going to a different plan of attack with this one,” (i.e. phase two).

Microsoft initially built the West Des Moines (phase one) in 2010, after a couple of years’ delay following the fallout of the global economic downturn. According to the Des Moines Register, Microsoft began upgrading its $200m West Des Moines facility with the phase two project in September, after the Iowa Economic Development Board gave Redmond tax credits. Microsoft said at the time it could invest another $200 million in construction and server hardware, and create  additional jobs.

Humidity is of course an issue for all data centres, especially if they hope to use free air cooling. Low humnidity allows cooling across a smaller temperature difference; otherwise air conditioning and other cooling systems are required, all of which cost money to run. This could be the reason for the supposed design change at the Des Moines facility.

Microsoft Denial

But it seems that humidity is not the reason for the design change, at least not according to Microsoft.

Microsoft was quoted by the Associated Press as well as other media outlets, as saying that its decision to opt for a different type of modular building for its data centre expansion in West Des Moines was because it is more cost effective and efficient, and not because of the humidity issue.

“The decision to go with a different type of modular building form factor for Phase 2 has nothing to with Iowa’s weather,” Christian Belady, general manager of Data Center Advancement for Microsoft was reported as saying.

“Our modular facilities continue to evolve and change as we research and develop new methods to significantly reduce water and energy use, and building costs, while increasing computing capacity and server utilisation,” Belady told the Associated Press.

Belady said the designs for the modular units in Iowa use outside air and evaporative cooling and were developed to address the “ambient weather conditions.”

“They are new design models that our research and development teams have determined are even more cost effective, efficient and sustainable for the services we will be deploying for them,” he reportedly said.

Cloud Driver

Microsoft is increasing its investments in data centres as its ramps up its cloud push, as well as improving services such as Bing. In July Dell officials touted the data centre “microsite” they had created for Microsoft’s Bing Maps business, as an example of what can be done in building a high-performance environment that is also highly efficient.

On this side on the pond, Microsoft announced a new data centre in Dublin way back in June 2009. But it seems that weather continues to prove a problem for Microsoft, after lightning strikes this August cut the power to two major Microsoft and Amazon data centres in Dublin,

Meanwhile Microsoft boffins have published a paper in July that suggested that cloud computing servers should be distributed to homes where they can act as a “data furnace” (or boiler in the UK), in order to heat the building.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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