The Woman Behind the Microsoft Cloud

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2008-10-28

The Woman Behind the Microsoft Cloud

LOS ANGELES-Despite all the talk about Microsoft's new Windows Azure cloud computing strategy, somebody has to be in charge of actually making sure that "cloud" stays up and running. That somebody is Debra Chrapaty.

Indeed, when Chrapaty joined Microsoft six years ago, Windows Azure was but a glimmer in Microsoft's eye. But because she ran the data center infrastructure for Microsoft, "my organization was the first to use the Azure environment and test it," she said.

Chrapaty's group runs more than 200 internal Microsoft properties, including Azure and other well-known entities such as Microsoft's Messenger, Hotmail and Search offerings.

Some interesting facts related to the computing horsepower across Microsoft's data centers include support of Live Search's 2.16 billion queries per month in 41 languages; and MSN's 550 million unique users and more than 10 billion page views per month. The data centers also have to support Microsoft Live ID's more than 1 billion authentications per day and Microsoft Messenger's 8.2 billion messages a day, Chrapaty said.

However, when discussions around Azure began to point to the need for even greater data canter capability, "we had a discussion on how we were going to do our own builds," Chrapaty said. "We looked at the FedEx model of building strategic landing fields around their distribution centers, but I don't deliver packages; I deliver bits," she said.

Still, "we created a heat map of the U.S., and we put in all these criteria, and we hit the button, and what came up as the best place to build a new data center was Quincy, Wash. And it came up for two reasons: One that there was clean hydroelectric power, and the other was that the town had committed to fiber."

Chrapaty said the Quincy facility is approximately 500,000 square feet on a site that is 75 acres. One lap around the site would be 1.3 miles. The construction of the facility called for 2,000 tons of steel, 3,125 truckloads of concrete and more than 1 million square feet of drywall. The source of the data center's power is hydro-a renewable and clean resource coming from the Columbia River Basin.

"Quincy is 100-percent hydro-sourced," Chrapaty said. And now that the initial build-out of the center is complete, it consumes up to 27 megawatts of electricity for IT equipment, she added.

Chrapaty said that four to five years ago, Microsoft began to plan to build out its data center capacity to focus on software plus services. And about three and a half years ago, "we started to create some unique design in data centers that we built from the ground up." A well-publicized one is in San Antonio.

Microsofts First Container-Based Facility


One Microsoft data center that is not getting a lot of attention is one the company is building in Chicago, which is the Microsoft's first container-based facility, Chrapaty said, showing a mock-up of a data center container on an 18-wheeler that could be unloaded and added to an existing facility to add capacity.

"We build our containers to Microsoft specifications, and that is unique to what anyone else is doing," Chrapaty said. "We're excited about the pilot in Chicago, and it gives us great scale."

Microsoft broke ground at the Chicago site on Oct. 1, 2007, the company said. And a year later, move-in and testing began for the 40-foot shipping containers inside the facility, each of which will house approximately 2,500 servers.

Many data centers can handle 25,000 to 30,000 servers in a data center. "Well, we can fit 10 times that in a standard-size facility," Chrapaty said. "So there is a lot of scale, and with scale comes price point," she added, noting that Microsoft's prices will be competitive with, if not better than, other offerings in the industry.

Moreover, Chrapaty said the Chicago data center is the first Microsoft data center to use shipping containers as a primary server packaging and deployment unit. When both phases of the data center are complete, it will total more than 707,000 square feet on a 16-acre site. It will hold hundreds of thousands of servers to deliver on the Microsoft software-plus-services initiative.  The company claims the Chicago facility will be one of the largest data centers in the world and the largest deployment of the use of containers to date.

For the Windows Azure release, "we spent a lot of time with Amitabh's [Srivastava, corporate vice president at Microsoft and head of the Azure team] group thinking about what should the optimal server look like, and how well should a server perform and what kinds of networks should we implement to make sure it extends globally," Chrapaty said.

As far as demand for Azure coming out of the blocks with the new community technology preview offering and beyond, Chrapaty said: "We have more than ample capacity to support current and future expectations. We continue to invest heavily in the cloud, and our data centers cost anywhere from $300 million to $700 million. We're deeply invested to make sure our cloud is ever available." 

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