Azure Broke My Booth

“Get outta the way—it’s coming through.”

I love the New York accent. I think it is at its most characteristic when roared by an irritated teamster, struggling with a near-undeliverable load that was late even before the scheduled pick-up time.  In this instance, the package is a self-contained Microsoft Azure Compute Center, on its way to its temporary home in the middle of the show floor during April’s Cloud Computing Expo in the Javitts Center. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but by this time it was the 11th hour of vendor setup, and just about everyone on the show floor was done, leaving very little room for heavy plant to deliver a package the size of a modest RV.

The coming of Azure.

Small vendors in the tech industry have few options when juggernaut like Microsoft moves into their space. Maneuverability is always the best defense. A similar strategy is to be recommended when Azure, well, drives down the main hallway of the show floor. Not surprising, it left in its wake a volatile combination of consternation, amusement, disorganization—and a healthy determination to still win on the new business front opened up in the cloud.

The wake of Azure.

Everyone says that cloud is disruptive, but this was a little too literal for my taste.

Once delivered, an army of Microsoft staff swarmed over the box and quickly packed it with a dense array of Dell servers connected by a thick tangle of red patch cables. When all was said and done, it was hard not to be impressed with this rapid marshalling of technological firepower.

Azure data center.

Techs who work in the cloud.

Microsoft designed the Azure data center to be modular, self-contained and very green. The trick the company has employed here is to make use of outside air-cooling running through the unit to avoid expensive conventional air conditioning systems, which can typically account for half of the power consumption in a traditional data center.

The Azure center has three rooms. The air flows passes through each one, cooling the racks of equipment that separate the second and third rooms. If ambient air temperature rises too much to make this effective, normal HVAC takes up the slack; but the overall power consumption is considerably reduced.

Air intake zone.

Middle zone, showing server racks.

I’m not sure that it was a wise choice to light the middle zone in blue.

Each data center is weather hardened because Microsoft intends it to be deployed out-of-doors, and ideally in a location offering a naturally cool climate. Each unit is small enough so that it can be easily deployed in farms that integrate vast numbers of commodity servers. This is as close to cloud-in-a-box as you are ever likely to see.


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