The DatacenterDynamics Focus article titled Microsoft: Building Out 'At A Scale No-One Has Seen' is a must read for utilities, because it captures the intensity of the potential growth rate of utility-scale data centers, thereby informing the challenges utilities will have in serving this growth.
You'll read about how operators of utility-scale data centers have dramatically improved the design and operations of their facilities in terms of energy efficiency over the past decade or so, and even some prognostications about where those designs might go in the future. ARM-based servers that require no cooling support, fail over designs so that UPS and backup generators are mooted, etc.
But that trend doesn't make the growth rate go away. Microsoft's Christian Belady, general manager of data center services, says his team is thinking about how to scale out their data center fleet by 10x.
Why is that needed? To support two hundred on-line services like Bing and Office 365. And of course there is the Xbox, where I've seen a report that Microsoft will need to grow from 15,000 support servers to maybe twenty times that. Another source told me that Microsoft may be deploying as many as 200,000 servers per year.
What does this mean for utilities? In my view, this growth (which will also be coming from Google, Amazon, and even IBM, which is a bit of a late entry into the cloud services game but is coming on strong) will affect every utility in the country, not just those that can serve 40 MW loads.
That's because a portion of cloud services are latency-dependent, particularly content delivery. Microsoft has shown how to drop a modular data center with a load of a MW or two on a greenfield site and have it operational in ten weeks - which means the utility had to be incredibly resourceful in planning and building infrastructure.
And what other trend is Microsoft considering? Locating "data plants" right next to generating stations. The idea is that it is more efficient to move data through fiber optic lines than it is to move electrons through power lines, but I don't think that is the primary motivation here.
For the big players in this market, it must be becoming increasingly clear that getting power from utilities that meets all of their requirements (cheap, clean, available, quick) is going to get even more difficult in the future. Dropping a prefab data center on a power plant site run by a merchant generator could meet at least three of those requirements, and may be the true essence of Microsoft's thought process.