Dar Al-Handasah, an architecture and construction consultancy, wanted to visit Microsoft data centers to evaluate their quality of security and operations. It also wanted to learn about the innovations that Microsoft built into its facilities so that it could apply them to its own data center designs. The company attended two Data Center Briefings at Microsoft facilities and left with greater insight into both sides of its data center equation.
Dar Al-Handasah manages projects on a grand scale, helping its customers with every phase of a development project. The company has 43 offices throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, so it offers a truly global perspective when it comes to design and implementation.
Dar Al-Handasah increasingly relies on technology to support its design efforts, which is why it has invested in virtualization technologies and data centers to help process the large amounts of data required to create three-dimensional models of its designs. The company constantly looks for ways to harness more power to speed up design work and strive for even greater accuracy. "We use some compute-intensive applications that run on the Windows HPC Server 2008 operating system," explains Mahmoud Amin, IT Manager at the Cairo office of Dar Al-Handasah. "We have been considering an upgrade to Windows Server 2012 when it becomes available, and we are exploring the idea of extending our processing power by using the Windows Azure cloud computing environment. We wanted to know more about Microsoft data centers and how well they are managed because we would rely on them to handle our data."
The company also wanted to take full advantage of possible efficiencies as it built its own data centers. "Given the rapidly changing data center industry, we thought we should learn more about the latest advancements in power, cooling, and design," says Amin. "Often, the best way to understand new methods is to see them in a production environment."
In February 2012, Amin attended a Data Center Briefing (DCB) and facility tour. The briefing delved into the worldwide Microsoft data center network and the engineering challenges to overcome when designing data centers on a massive scale. Amin was impressed at discovering that the facility achieves a power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 1.06. On the tour, Amin noted the environmentally friendly practices that Microsoft employs, such as cooling the facility by using natural resources and no chillers, for minimal power use. "I appreciated the attention to detail I saw throughout, along with the engineers’ structured way of working that delivers stable, highly available service," says Amin.
In June 2012, Amin visited the Microsoft data center in Quincy, Washington, this time in conjunction with an Executive Briefing Center (EBC) session at the company’s headquarters. He noticed the care that Microsoft takes regarding security. "I liked that there were no signs to identify the building as a major Microsoft facility," explains Amin. "And only a few network and hardware engineers work there; software engineers work remotely, which limits the number of people coming and going and adds to security."
Amin appreciated other details that he saw during the visit, such as the facility’s unusual raised floor height and the software-based patch panel that operators use to streamline and organize internal routing. "We had been thinking about raising the floor higher in our data center design, and seeing how Microsoft handled its raised floors was helpful," says Amin.
Amin and the Microsoft data center expert discussed other aspects of the facility, including how Microsoft responds to server failure. "There is so much self-healing technology built into Microsoft data centers-we want to take a similar approach with our own facilities, so I gained good information on how it works in a production environment," says Amin.
Because of the DCB engagements, Dar Al-Handasah is in a better position both to make technology decisions and to construct successful data centers. "I learned that Microsoft data centers are where aggressive business needs meet perfectly engineered software solutions," says Amin. The benefits of the DCB experience include:
- Increased technical preparedness. For Dar Al-Handasah, the combination of the EBC session and DCBs prepared the company to make better use of its hardware in terms of data center efficiency and virtualization. "My experiences at the Microsoft facilities answered a lot of questions about everything from design to operational best practices," says Amin.
- Confirmation of design path. The DCB helped the company validate many of its design ideas. "I had the opportunity to see innovative ways to route cables and conduct air, both of which were similar to our planned approach," says Amin. "The engagements also underscored the importance of improving our documentation to support stricter change management as we move forward."
- Access to world-class facilities. Amin was impressed by not only the scale of the data centers but also by their technological and environmental advancements. "The experiences definitely changed my impression of Microsoft-the company is no longer just a software vendor but has become a respected services leader that is capable of providing the availability and agility that Dar Al-Handasah requires," says Amin.
- Confidence in Microsoft capabilities. The sessions and data center tours made Dar Al-Handasah more comfortable with the potential use of Windows Azure to speed up its compute-intensive applications. "We can see that extending to Windows Azure is safe-the facilities demonstrated a variety of powerful security measures and built-in resiliency to help ensure that no data is lost," says Amin. "Microsoft has thought of every detail, from security and cabling to efficient management and failover support."
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