Data Center in a Box Comeback?

Some time ago, container based data centers got good attention because of its time to market, availability of high power density and focused cooling. As recent as last December, Tier-1 indicated that there is little traction by this technology. Lately, a lot of buzz on this subject are in the media and from people I meet, including a 20 feet container recently announced from HP, VMware and ones mentioned in here.

There are several vendors providing container based DCs, including:

  • HP
  • IBM
  • Verrari
  • Sun/Oracle
  • SGI

The benefits of container based DCs include:

  • Short time to market
  • Availability of dense server (and therefore, power) concentration
  • Savings of packing materials, such as boxes, extra power cords and so on

Some vendor put up to 22 racks of 42U (924 1U) servers. If you put blade servers instead, you could pack several thousands of servers per container with effective cooling. Because it is already set up as a mini DC, time to market is very short and you do not need to unpack each server box to get rid of empty boxes and extra power and networking cords.

As I mentioned, with some exceptions like Microsoft and Google, the market traction for this technology has been slow because many people consider this technology being only for large data center operators. I have informally solicited for opinions from several data center experts. There was almost 50-to-50 split between positive and negative opinions. The people with negative opinions claim this type of solutions only work for large DC operators and they are not large in number. Initially, I was in the same opinion. But after talking to two experts with positive opinions, I am beginning to change my stance, although I am not totally convinced yet.

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Energy Efficient Cooling for Data Centers: A Close-Coupled Row Solution
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The positive opinion is summarized as follows:

  • Because of the capital crunch and time to market, more and more enterprises are moving towards co-location
  • Co-location/Whole Sale DC operators are becoming bigger by acquisition and other means to exploit economies of scale
  • Cloud computing will accelerate the above two trends
  • Containers are not property but equipment and thus, are not subject to property tax. They can be placed anywhere, including rooftops and parking lots, eliminating the need for large space to accommodate large IT loads.

The largest negative factor on the container based DCs is the granularity. Only large operators can use the container based DCs is limited in number. As the proliferation of cloud computing continues, more and more enterprises will move their roll your own DCs to DC operators’ sites for time to market and cost. This trend will make DC operators bigger and consequently; let economies of scale work well. For small players, a container-full of servers are too big to deal with but for large operators, the container may become a reasonable building block. Based on some conversation with a DC expert, fortune 500-1,000 companies are beginning to move to cloud computing type computing and this is actually happening.

Finally, not all the container based DCs are made in the same manner. Some are good and others are not that great. All of these data and information make me research further on the container based data centers. More to come…

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

2 Responses to Data Center in a Box Comeback?

  1. PDUs Direct February 16, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    A few of the manufacturer you mentioned are also build half container sizes with 11 42U racks enclosed.

    These versatile containers offer increased flexibility and an excellent entry level size.

  2. Zen Kishimoto
    Zen Kishimoto February 16, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    Yes, I know HP put a press release on its 20 feet one recently. Economies of scale play a big role here.

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