The epic shift to cloud computing and need to process massive volumes of data are spurring a high-stakes race to build global data center capacity while making information available on whatever kind of device consumers want it, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told a group of Northern Virginia technology executives Thursday.
“We need to think of data center capacity in real time,” he said, as part of Microsoft’s broader bet that businesses and government will use a combination of public and private clouds in the future, Ballmer said. He made comment in a series of wide ranging remarks about how technology is changing and the implications that will have for individuals, businesses, and government during an industry breakfast in McLean, Va., hosted by the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
While Ballmer devoted a significant portion of his presentation highlighting Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system, now available for public testing, it’s Microsoft’s vision to let users access their content, applications and settings on virtually any device via the cloud that is driving the company to build a new generation of data centers like the one taking shape in Boydton, Va., not far from Richmond.
The Boydton facility–and ones similar to it in Des Moines, Iowa and Dublin, Ireland–features a modular data center architecture, known as IT-PAC, with pre-assembled components built into containers, each about half the size of a shipping container, that can be added and configured in very little time. The new facility relies on air — and uses only 1% of the water used in traditional data center designs — to cool the data center’s servers, he said.
“Data center technology is moving at an amazing rate,” he said, noting that Microsoft trailed only Google in terms of the amount of global data center process capacity.
Ballmer asserted that Microsoft is still the only company among big technology players that has committed to providing public and private clouds centers and the applications to process information in either or both.
He also emphasized that the re-imagination of Windows and Microsoft’s move to cloud computing were the biggest things the software giant has done since the launch of the PC.
“We’re still T-minus N months” from releasing Windows 8, he said, “where N is less than 12 months.”
Expanding on the future of technology, Ballmer said few industry have undergone the kind of transformation and continue to undergo the increasingly rapid changes that the IT industry has experienced.
The vision to have a PC on every desk and in every home that Bill Gates used to lure Ballmer to Microsoft in its early years has evolved dramatically to where, today, that vision is “to have a computer on every desk, in every home, in every pocket, in every hand, in every meeting, in every whiteboard, in everything in the world.”
Ballmer offered one example of how the IT world continues to march forward:
“I just got rid out of last two analog devices in my office,” he said. “The pencil and paper–I have no pencils and no paper anywhere in my office…and no printer either. And I got rid of the whiteboard in my office,” which he said was tougher to give up.
In its place, he said is a new 81 inch Windows “Slate” that uses Microsoft’s surface-oriented touch screen technology. “They make for great white boards,” he said.
Ballmer also spoke about the future of search, big data, security and innovation.
“There’s still so much opportunity for innovation in the way we build and architect applications because of the cloud,” he said.
Ballmer said search is one of the areas where he expects to see continued innovation.
“Today I still can’t say to my PC, ‘Get ready for my trip to DC’…or ‘Print my boarding pass,” he said by way of example. “Search engines still do better with nouns than verbs,” he said.
“One of the best applications of big data is machine learning of you,” he said, predicting that the ability to analyze lots of information about how we use our information will make it easier to provide better tailored information.
He described how a client, MGM Grand Casino, in Las Vegas, is using big data analytics to get people to spend more of their money at MGM’s casinos. “So every time you’re buying a drink, or putting your frequent user card in a slot machine,” MGM is trying to compare spending patterns with what others have bought at the casino, and print out an offer in near real time.
“It’s not from people doing back-end analytics, but having machines do the analytics in real time,” he said.
Ballmer discussed Microsoft’s $8.5 billion purchase of Skype and the future he envisions for its use in the workplace.
“In spite of talk about mobile computing most of the time, people are still using paper to take notes” which are easy to lose and hard to share.
He envisions Skype, together with Lync, Microsoft’s unified communications platform built into Microsoft Office, being able allow people not only to see one another online, but share a variety of documents and media “to reach across company boundaries” to partners, vendors and friends “who are not inside your business environment.”
“It will morph the way you work,” he said.
Ballmer also said the “model for security has flipped,” from a time when IT administrators tried to protect their organizations by protecting its devices, to a time now where the key is to protect the information and every time a piece of information moves.
A full transcript of Ballmer’s remarks are now available from Microsoft.