Taking a Virtual Tour of a Microsoft Datacentre

Microsoft is offering users a behind-the-scenes look at the technology powering its public cloud services. Its virtual data centre experience is an immersive digital tour that provides a walk-through of simulated server rooms, network rooms and operation yards. The tour aims to make the cloud real for users, giving them a glimpse of the infrastructure behind the services they use. 

What is a Datacentre

The cloud is the place where we hold virtual lessons and meetings, keep track of resources and respond to customer needs. However, whether for supply chain logistics, streamlined communications or online computer games, it’s an environment that can be hard to imagine. However, when it comes down to it, the cloud isn’t a magical place or a single supercomputer. In fact, it is a network of millions of computers in datacentres worldwide working together to store data, run applications and deliver services. 

Datacentres are physical facilities used to house critical applications and data and communicate across multiple sites, both on-premises and in the cloud. They are windowless concrete warehouses surrounded by fences, far less glamorous than portrayed in the movies. However, the nondescript nature hides the power within and the streamlined look is all about efficiency. 

When it comes to Microsoft’s datacentres, their cloud is based upon 200 of them, a number that continues to grow. The datacentre footprint covers 34 countries, a number which again is growing, networked by around 270,000 kilometres of subsea, terrestrial and metro optical fibre. 

Why Take a Tour?

Datacentres are central to business operations, supporting activities such as email and file sharing, customer relationship planning, big data, collaboration services and more. So, if your business depends upon Microsoft’s public cloud, the datacentre tour will give you a more tangible view of its inner workings. More importantly, by seeing the space where your IT equipment lives, you can have more confidence in the security and reliability that is in place to protect it. The tour is an experience to learn about the infrastructure required to build data centres, the renewable energy that powers them and the hardware and software that keeps your data secure. 

Microsoft has hosted thousands of in-situ tours over the past years, but the COVId-19 pandemic has given them the impetus to deliver a virtual experience. Now everyone has the opportunity to get a better understanding of how their datacentres work. It is a rare opportunity to look over the high-security perimeter fence and past the physical security controls. 

What to Expect 

There is a huge amount of information available on the datacentre tour, which is available on your desktop or mobile device, giving you the opportunity to delve into as much detail as you want. The main areas within the tour include:

  • Outside – review the physical security measures in place to prevent unauthorised access to the data centres.
  • The lobby – gain a deeper understanding of what the cloud is and the fundamental security measures that Microsoft has in place to protect its global datacentres. 
  • Server room – learn about the number of cores, storage types and capacity of its compute units, the evolving nature of the workloads and the demands of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. 
  • Network Rooms – understand how data travels from datacentres, links to Microsoft’s global network and is kept securely with low-latency, scalability and the latest advancements in cloud technology. 
  • Operations area – get a glimpse of how Microsoft uses the latest innovations in technology to keep its server and network hardware cool, maintain backup systems and securely protect its infrastructure. 
  • Innovation Room – discover how the company trials technologies designed to improve sustainability and operational performance of its servers. 

You’ll also learn a lot about how servers are recycled and reused for parts to reduce e-waste, the company’s zero-waste operations and carbon-neutral goals, and its networking infrastructure.

The Sustainability of Microsoft’s Datacentres

One big stand out that you’ll note from the tour is Microsoft’s commitment to datacentre sustainability. Microsoft sees sustainability as humanity’s response to climate change, but also as one of the biggest challenges. However, that doesn’t stop them from doing everything possible to ensure their datacentres use sustainable technologies and smart business practices to work towards a cleaner, greener future. 

Microsoft datacentres are optimised for efficiency inside and out with a view to reducing the impact of operations, enabling resource efficiency and accelerating research into environmentally conscious technologies. Ultimately, all of this reduces the amount of energy required to deliver cloud services and ensures that it has the smallest impact possible. Microsoft uses several technologies and practices that are only available on a large scale:

  • Dynamic provisioning – adding capacity doesn’t require additional capital outlays and scaling back is practical. Shared users of cloud-provided infrastructure reduce overall energy usage and can balance capacity by offsetting demands. 
  • Server utilisation – with virtualisation technologies, datacentres can consolidate multiple workloads per server in isolation. As utilisation is higher there are considerable energy savings. 
  • Datacentre design – Microsoft has pioneered the use of free air cooling and ultra-efficient water utilisation and also uses recyclable materials for construction. 
  • Renewable power – the company brings new renewable energy to the grid through large-scale power generation plants. Microsoft is also trialling powering data plants with wastewater and in-rack fuel cells. 

According to Microsoft, When organisations move their on-premise workloads to a Microsoft-hosted cloud, they are able to reduce their per-user carbon footprint by at least 30 pe rcent and up to 90 per cent for small businesses. By taking the datacentre tour, you can learn more about how Microsoft’s investments in an efficient, sustainable cloud infrastructure could help your organisation reduce its own environmental impact. 

How to Access Microsoft’s Tour

If you use services  within Microsoft’s online business productivity suite, such as Microsoft 365, you are part of more than 13 billion collaboration minutes supported each day by datacentre infrastructure. Taking a tour gives you a pretty good insight into how it can cope with such high usage rates. 

To take the tour, all you need to do is visit Microsoft’s dedicated datacentre virtual tour microsite. As the company evolves its operations and innovations, they plan to update it further and add more virtual elements, so you can always come back for more. 

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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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