The company is planning to invest heavily in its online infrastructure to meet the expected demand. Providers, including arch-rival Google as well as Adobe and Amazon, are now increasingly able to replace and augment the functionality of local PCs with web-based services running on large distributed server farms.
For Microsoft, this capability represents an attack on its traditional PC operating system and office application business. To counter this, it will set up 20 new data centres over the next 20 years at a cost of a billion dollars each. Debra Chrapaty, Microsoft's VP of global foundation services, speaking to the US media, said "We're going to reinvent the infrastructure of our industry,". It took Chrapaty's team two years to set up Microsoft's first cloud data centre, which opened in Washington State last year. Because of the high energy requirement, the server farm was purposely located close to a new hydroelectric power station.
It took the team just nine months to build the next datacentre in San Antonio, Texas. One of the reasons for their success is the modular design of the new blocks of servers. Up to 2,500 servers are installed in a freight container at the factory and fitted with mains power and cooling infrastructure. There is no need to unpack computers from cardboard boxes on site: these mini-datacentres are driven into giant hangar-like buildings, the whole container connected up, and then they can become operational as soon as the software has been installed. It takes two days to activate a new container. There is room in the 70,000 square metre datacentre in San Antonio for over 220 containers – a theoretical capacity of half a million servers. The architecture saves energy, time and staff workload. According to Microsoft's own statements, these datacentres will need half the staff of previous centres and the software company expects to cut its energy budget by a third. Hardware manufacturers like Sun and Rackable Systems have proposed similar concepts before. David Capuccio, an analyst with Gartner, sees Microsoft's version as being more robust as well as more likely to offer worthwhile power savings.