Chuck Thacker from Microsoft (project lead for the Xerox Alto as well as co-inventor of Ethernet LAN) gave a talk today at Stanford about rethinking the design of datacenters. The PowerPoint presentation is here.
The presentation starts with the problem of today’s datacenters not being designed from a systems point of view. The “packaging” of datacenters is suboptimal, and he praises the approach of Sun’s black box (i.e. self-contained data center in a standardized shipping container, see slide #5). I was a bit surprised by that since well… I just didn’t quite expect Microsoft to speak well of Sun. Furthermore, I asked him what he thought of Sun’s Niagara CPU and he also said it’s a good re-thinking of CPU design, but with the caveat that not many people left are using Solaris OS.
Chuck went on to talk about using custom designs for power, computers, management, and networking that are optimized for today’s datacenters. Half the talk is about networking since that’s the audience’s interest. Surprisingly there’s only one slide on datacenter management. He claims that Microsoft is “doing pretty well here” and “opex isn’t overwhelming.” Management can be better with more sensors and use of machine learning to predict failures. He mentioned that Microsoft is approaching one admin per 5,000 machines. At that scale I do suppose further improvements may not have much financial impact.