Cargo Containers to Help Data Centers Go Green

Microsoft’s newest generation of data centers, including one that was announced last week for West Des Moines, Iowa, could represent a turning point in green data center design, according to a data center industry expert.Rich Miller, editor of, told CPN that Microsoft hasn’t yet unveiled full plans for the West Des Moines center. However, although the $500 million, 500,000-square-foot data center being developed by Microsoft outside Chicago, will feature a traditional raised-floor configuration on the upper floor, the servers on the ground floor will be housed in up to 220, 40-foot shipping containers. The Northlake center will be Microsoft’s first to embrace the container concept. The military has put computer servers in intermodal cargo containers for years, Miller said, but primarily for ease of transportation. Similarly, when the civilian IT industry started to adopt containers on a small scale, the main drivers were standardization and rapid installation. In large data centers, however, the containers offer potentially major energy savings, since the extensive cooling needed to offset the massive waste heat produced by hundreds or thousands of servers can be concentrated within the containers themselves. Michael Manos, Microsoft’s director of data center services, told that the Northlake facility’s design prompted Microsoft to work with parking lot operators on the design logistics of letting large trucks maneuver within the facility. “Microsoft is very focused on energy efficiency in their data centers,” Miller said, and one of the site selection criteria that both it and competitor Google are considering is developing data centers closer to sources of renewable energy, such as hydro or wind. “Most of the buildings are still big concrete blocks,” he said, though they are tending to get larger. Overall, Miller said, despite the current economy, there’s “a very strong demand” for data centers, particularly in specific metro areas such as Chicago, Northern New Jersey, Northern Virginia and the San Francisco Bay Area. In May, CPN reported on a then-new survey by Digital Realty Trust Inc., which predicted substantial growth in data centers over the next 12 months, including increases in both physical space and number of locations.