Microsoft backs Windows Azure with massive data centre investment

Microsoft intends to ramp up the number of servers running in its data centres worldwide by 15 times over the next 5 years, despite the economic downturn.

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Microsoft intends to ramp up the number of servers running in its data centres worldwide by 15 times over the next 5 years, despite the economic downturn.

The growth, outlined at its Professional Developers Conference, is designed to handle increased hosted computing demand from enterprise software running on its new Windows Azure platform, as well as third-party services Microsoft hopes to attract.

Microsoft expects to boost the number of data centres it operates by three times, its power usage by 15 times, and the Internet traffic going out of its data centres by nine-fold, said Benjamin Ravani, general manager of Microsoft's Global Foundation Services, during a technical session.

Ravani said Microsoft operates "tens of thousands of servers" but would not disclose the exact number.

Microsoft had announced similar growth projections earlier this year. But Ravani's reiteration of those comments come a week after Redmond announced plans to tighten its fiscal belt, including cutting US$500 million (£317.6 million) in spending this fiscal year by slowing hiring and cutting travel and marketing expenses.

Despite its belated arrival to so-called cloud computing services, Microsoft appears to be sparing no dime on building out a back-end infrastructure that tops competitors such as Amazon.com Inc., Google Inc. and Salesforce.com Inc.

Microsoft has announced the building of five new data centres in the past 12 months, including in San Antonio, Texas, Chicago, Illinois, and Des Moines, Iowa. Both its Chicago and Des Moines data centres will be massive, $500 million (£317.6 million) facilities that will have many of its servers pre-configured and installed in shipping containers.

Demand for some services is already huge. Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger has more than 450 million unique users in the system, passes more than 8.3 billion messages and performs more than 1 billion Web authentications a day, said Ravani.

Besides touting the scale of Microsoft's cloud infrastructure, Ravani also touted the resiliency of its network, which he said was the result of several hard-earned lessons.

For instance, in November 2006, half a million users of a Microsoft online service experienced authentication delays for several hours. The problem was an overload of the authentication system caused by a poorly-written internal batch job. As a result, Microsoft created a policy that all batch jobs need to be tested first, and increased security, so that users can't access key data services without authorisation.