Microsoft Tackles Data Center Backup Power Efficiency at OCP Summit

A year after joining the open-source data center hardware movement, Microsoft returns with new power, switching and SSD storage advancements.

data center power

Microsoft made waves last year when it announced that it had joined Facebook's Open Compute Project (OCP), a syndicate of technology organizations promoting innovation in energy-efficient, open-specification hardware for cloud and Web-scale data centers.

Microsoft contributed a server design, dubbed the Open CloudServer specification (OCS), that packs up to 23 commodity servers in a 12U chassis plus a JBOD, or 'just a bunch of disks', storage expansion option that streamlines network cabling and cuts power consumption. Now, with the group's Open Compute Project Summit in San Jose, Calif., as a backdrop, Microsoft is revealing what's next in store.

Kushagra Vaid, general manager of server engineering for Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise, chimed in with a March 10 blog post to preview the latest contributions it is making to OCP. First, however, he delivered an update on OCS v2, which his company unveiled in October. In short, the tech is already powering much of Microsoft's cloud ecosystem.

"Today, all new hardware infrastructure being deployed for Microsoft Azure, Office 365, Bing and Xbox Live is based on the OCS version 2 specification," he said. "With OCS v2, we added a number of performance and efficiency improvements via innovations in latest processor technology (Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3), high-bandwidth networking (40-gigabit Ethernet and ROCE v2) and more."

At the summit, Microsoft is unveiling its Local Energy Storage (LES) specification, a distributed approach to uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) and other technologies that keep server hardware running in the event of a power failure. Instead of a centralized backup power facility within a data center, LES places lithium-ion (Li-Ion) backup batteries into the server chassis.

The result, according to Microsoft, is reclaimed square footage, improved energy efficiency and all-around savings. "LES improves data center total cost of ownership (TCO) by reducing UPS costs up to 5 times and tying expenditures to capacity expansion rather than upfront capex when building the facility, by reducing facility footprint by up to 25 percent, and by improving power usage effectiveness (PUE) by up to 15 percent," said Vaid.

A separate, more in-depth post by Microsoft's Shaun Harris, director of engineering for the company's Cloud Server Infrastructure division, explained that LES can ultimately help data center operators integrate and optimize their energy and systems management operations. "The LES unit when tightly coupled with the IT management system (OCS chassis manager) can enable new architectural scenarios for utilization efficiency—such as peak shaving, trough charge, processor state control from the row distribution to server," he wrote.

Also being presented at the OCP confab is a demonstration of the Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) specification, with help from Dell, Mellanox and Broadcom. "By providing simple, consistent programming interfaces for common networking functions implemented by network switch application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC), SAI enables the freedom to pick and choose the combination of hardware and software that is the best-suited for each networking scenario," explained Vaid. "SAI is a key element in advancing the OCP objectives for disaggregated networking and an open switch ecosystem."

Finally, Microsoft announced an upgrade to OCS v2 that enables system builders to incorporate eight compact M.2 solid-state drives (SSDs) into their servers. "By utilizing commodity NAND flash storage, connected through high-bandwidth PCI-Express, OCS v2 servers can now incorporate higher-capacity drives, higher-performance SSDs while ensuring lower component costs," Vaid said.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...