Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) wants to store your data in a trailer park.
That's the metaphor CNET's Ina Fried used in describing Mr. Softy's latest data center plan recently, and she's right. Mobile computing facilities ought to be fancier than this. Instead, they look like metallic white shipping containers. Tie a few together, and you've got a mobile data center that looks like a trailer park.
"Once built, the units can be placed inside a large building or when equipped with outer protective panels, they can reside out in the open and be linked together to build out an entire datacenter," writes Kevin Timmons in this blog post. Timmons is Microsoft's general manager for data center services.
Don't let the visual fool you. These ITPAC containers, as Microsoft calls them, pack a mishmash of computing, storage, and networking equipment. Each container is capable of housing 400 to 2,500 servers, cooled by ambient air and a single water hose. Timmons says tests show ITPACs can be assembled in four days. Call it cloud computing, gone portable.
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) ought to feel threatened by this. So should Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) and salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM ) . Hosted services such as SharePoint, Exchange, Bing, and of course Azure are Mr. Softy's answer to these and other cloud computing upstarts. If the company proves capable of deploying data centers this quickly and pervasively, it can make those services very powerful.
But this idea also isn't new. In 2007, Google obtained a patent for "modular data centers with modular components," which translated means "data center in a box." Sun Microsystems has demonstrated similar technology in years past, as has IBM (NYSE: IBM ) . Both remain large data center operators.
Nevertheless, the point remains. The fast, mostly wireless, and browser-accessible infrastructure being built today is akin to the highway infrastructure build-out that kicked off in 1956 with President Eisenhower's signing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act. Ford and General Motors prospered in the years following.
For the cloud, Google is already Ford. Microsoft, with its data centers, hopes to be GM. Betting on either right now could produce decades of healthy investing profits.
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