Bob Seese, chief architect with Advanced Data Centers, a San Francisco company that leases data center space, applauded Microsoft for sharing the information. Companies are typically secretive about what goes on in their data centers, but along with Google and some other large companies, Microsoft has been opening up recently to discuss its best practices.
Pressuring vendors to design more flexible and standardized equipment could benefit all companies, Seese said. "One of our biggest struggles in the industry has been the tail wagging the dog -- the manufacturers telling IT departments what they need. Having someone push back against the vendors could by itself change this industry tremendously," he said.
Data center operators are risk averse, he noted, because their jobs depend on keeping things running, and the research being done by Microsoft and others should help everyone. "As a result of their successes and failures, other companies are going to benefit," he said.
Others were less convinced. Ron Croce, the COO at data center infrastructure provider Validus DC Systems, said Microsoft and Google are unique in their requirements. Microsoft's online services are mostly Web-based applications running on x86 servers, he said, and don't need the level of uptime and security as firms in, say, the financial services sector.
Building traditional data centers may not be cost-effective for Microsoft, but for other companies it's still a necessity, he said. "A lot of the requirements are driven by regulatory mandates. If you're a financial services company, you can't have a data center with no roof."
"It's certainly a valid concept but I don't see it as suitable for everyone," said Christopher Johnston, vice president of critical facilities at Syska Hennessy Group. "I think people will have to make a judgment depending on the type of industry they are in."