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A Billion Transactions

By Steve Jones,

How long would it take your systems at work to process a billion transactions? You'd expect some, heavily used and highly visible systems to be involved. The stock market systems process billions of trades a day, but I'm sure most of the systems in single companies, even large companies, deal with fewer transactions on a daily basis. A billion transactions a day is 11,000+ transactions a second, sustained across the entire day. That's a heavy load, but it might be the level of transactions that more and more of us will see over time as our systems gather more data.

The Microsoft corporate headquarters in Redmond consists of over 100 buildings on 500 acres. It's grown over the years from its original 88 acres, which is also the title of a story about Microsoft and the relatively unknown work in automating their infrastructure. Not the computer systems their software developers use, but rather their facilities and physical buildings. It's a fascinating story that outlines the way in which Microsoft saves millions of dollars in maintenance and repairs by using software.

Across those buildings, Microsoft collects a huge amount of data, from disparate systems, which is the presented to the facilities personnel. The sensors and systems don't process a billion transactions day; they process half a billion. Still an amazing amount of data, just from physical buildings and the infrastructure that ensures Microsoft employees have a pleasant place to work every day. Using a combination of SQL Server, Office, and Azure, Microsoft has built a software system that corrects many faults itself within sixty seconds. Those that can't be fixed remotely often end up generating one of the 30,000 work orders produced for personnel every quarter. The system is forecasted to save 6-10% of the energy that might otherwise be wasted with a less efficient system.

It's a great read, and perhaps is a good case study for an application that is well suited for cloud services. There are a few great quotes from the article as well that are particularly pleasing to a data professional. "Give me a little data and I’ll tell you a little,” he (Darrell Smith) says. “Give me a lot of data and I’ll save the world." That ought to be the model for data analysts. As SQL Server professionals and developers, we should be helping others to do just that.

Steve Jones


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