Thursday, 14 May 2015

Putting Your Head in the Clouds - Microsoft Azure

By David Postlethwaite
Microsoft Azure

Let’s take a look at the Microsoft Cloud offering. Originally called Windows Azure it was renamed in March 2014 to Microsoft Azure to reflect Microsoft now offering more than just Windows. At the time of writing Azure is available in 141 countries, including China, and supports 10 languages and 19 currencies. Microsoft has divided the world into regions.  There are currently 17 regions with more due to come online in India, Germany and South Korea soon.

image (The more observant will notice there aren’t 17 blobs on this image. Microsoft don’t show the two Chinese data centres)
There are currently two regions in Europe.
North Europe in Dublin, Ireland
West Europe in Amsterdam, The Netherlands (even though Dublin is further west than Amsterdam)
There are plans to build new data centres in Germany but no date has been published yet. Germany has much more stringent data protection laws than the rest of Europe which will make it more difficult for the NSA to get hold of data held there.
You can choose to place your cloud service in any data centre in the world (though Australia is currently limited to customers based in Australia and New Zealand) but putting your data or applications on the other side of the world may affect your customers’ performance if they are all based in Europe.
You’ll see that there are no data centres in Africa. South Africa recently was allowed to start using Azure but their nearest data centre is so far away that performance is almost unusable.
Microsoft Azure Data Centers
Microsoft has gone into the Cloud in a big way. They have spent billions of dollars on it and the data centres are huge as can be seen in this phot of the Dublin Data Centre.
The Dublin Data Centre, which was the first mega data centre built outside the USA, is now 581,000 square feet (54,000 square metres). That’s equivalent to 4 football pitches. In 2014 Microsoft announced plans to spend $1billion on a new data centre in Iowa, USA that will be more than 1.2 million square feet. (110,000 square meters)
Inside the Azure Data Centres

In a data centre the servers are housed in standard 40 foot shipping containers. Each container holds anywhere between 1,800 and 2,500 servers.
The shipping containers arrive fully built so all the onsite engineers have to do is plug them in using a  standard connector that provides power, cooling and network access. The servers remain inside their shipping containers inside the facility, where they are placed side by side and stacked two high.
The Dublin data centre has a room for over 100 containers giving a capacity of over 220,000 servers. A new container arriving at the data centre can be installed in just a few hours. That’s 2,500 servers installed and ready in less than a day.
photo credit: 4 Shipping Containers Stacked via photopin (license)
Power Usage Effectiveness PUE

One of the major benefits of this design is reduced energy consumption.  The Power Usage Effectiveness or PUE is an industry measure of the amount of energy needed to cool a computer compared to the amount of energy needed to run the computer.
PUE = Total Facility Energy/ IT Equipment Energy
The data centre for your company probably has a PUE of around 2.0. In other words it takes as much energy to cool your data centre as it does to run the computers within it. The Dublin centre has a PUE of 1.25. It achieves this by using a cooling system that uses outside air to cool the data centre and a server design that allows the servers to operate at much warmer operating temperatures than normal. (Microsoft says it runs its server rooms at temperatures of up to 35 Celsius, much warmer than most data centres, which typically run around 21 Celsius.)

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