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Q&A: Microsoft's utility computing guru talks about his in-house support challenges

Devin Murray pushes virtualization, RightSizing program to boost vendor's server utilization rates

May 22, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the types and numbers of systems Devin Murray's group handles, and to correct the locations of Microsoft's main data centers.

The profile of Microsoft Corp.'s in-house server farm looks very much like the ones in many other companies: one application per server, with less than 20% peak server utilization on average. Devin Murray, Microsoft's group manager of utility services, has been working to change that.

Murray is in charge of server purchases for about 40,000 of Microsoft's end users. His group handles internal computer usage, helping to shepherd the company's 17,000 servers that provide computing power to 550 buildings in 98 countries. Another IT unit within Microsoft runs the servers for MSN and other external, customer-facing applications.

In a recent interview with Computerworld, Murray explained some of the steps he's taking as part of his strategy to boost capacity utilization rates, which centers around a new server-purchasing notion he calls RightSizing as well as liberal use of virtualization technology. Excerpts from the interview follow:

What's RightSizing all about? It's a utility concept, where our users focus on their business needs and we worry about the underlying hardware platform. The model is to get them to buy into this utility solution, and they don't have to worry about the hardware refresh -- we worry about all that for them. They think about their business requirements; we think about speeds and feeds. And if they need more compute power, we get it to them. But we buy only what they need, not 600 times more capacity than they will use in two or three years.

To get users to buy in, we have to demonstrate that we can do this better, more effectively, than they can do it on their own. We charge them a one-time sign-up fee, and then a monthly amount for operational costs to keep the systems up and running, [plus] space, power and environmental charges. We don't charge end users for the actual hardware or software.

Why are you doing this now? Back in 2005, we started looking at our compute utility. We started doing internal benchmarks -- which business units are using what portions of their servers, how they rank among business units over time. It became apparent that we were buying machines that were way overpowered for our needs. So we started trying to change the conversation about purchasing -- to help business owners understand their real needs and the options for meeting those real needs. People buy hardware based on emotional factors and based on what they've done in the past. If I built my business on an HP four-processor system, I want to continue to use that irrespective of my current needs or the costs.

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