Containerized Data Centers Moving Out Of Niche Shadows


Portable containerized data centers, which pack the compute power of a small data center into a standard shipping container, can be rolled out quickly as a way to increase IT capacity faster than might be possible with their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Portable containerized data centers feature a variety of data center technologies, including servers, storage, networking, power, and cooling equipment pre-configured in standard 20-foot or 40-foot shipping containers similar to those used to ship products on ships or by rail.

Such "data centers-in-a-box" can be used to quickly expand the capacity of fixed data center locations, or quickly shipped and set up in remote locations for use in an emergency or where compute power is required but no local data centers are available.

While the market for portable containerized data centers still depends on more specialized uses such as containers built for companies such as Google which can bring them in and quickly set them up to meet their fast-growing compute requirements, solution providers in the data center market are looking at more mainstream uses for them.

For now, however, the market is still fairly small. According to an Uptime Institute survey of 525 large data center operators conducted this past Spring, 4 percent of respondents said they have deployed containerized data centers, 5 percent said they are planning to do so, 37 percent are exploring the concept, and 55 percent have no interest in the technology.

The number of potential suppliers continues to grow. Cisco this Spring became the latest to enter the market with a new offering configured with Cisco's UCS (Unified Computing System) data center technology, which ties server, storage, and networking into a single architecture.

Customers can also order them configured with a vBlock storage architecture from VCE, the EMC-Cisco joint-venture which builds storage infrastructures for virtualized and cloud environment, or with a NetApp FlexPod Modular Data Center Solution.

Cisco joins a large number of suppliers, some of whom are well-known server and system vendors including Hewlett-Packard, SGI, IBM, Dell, Liebert, Oracle-Sun, and Bull.

Representative offerings from the major vendors, in addition to the new Cisco units, include the ICE Cube from SGI. The ICE Cube is available in 20-foot and 40-foot containers which can support up to 1,540 U of rack space, up to 36,768 server core, and up to 16 petabytes of storage capacity using its own server and storage products or those from third-party vendors.

Another is HP's Performance Optimized Datacenter, or POD, which supports up to 1,600 server nodes or 5,400 hard drives in a 20-foot container or up to 3,520 server nodes or about 12,000 hard drives in a 40-foot container. HP claims its 40-foot models offers the equivalent of a traditional 5,000-square-foot data center space.

Smaller companies in this field, as listed by a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study in February, include i/o Data Centers, Pacific Voice & Data, Elliptical Mobile Solutions, PDI, Cirrascale, Lee Technologies, Telenetix, Universal Networking Services, NxGen Modular, and BladeRoom Group.

A representative model from these lesser-known vendors is the FORREST container from Poway, Calif.-based Cirrascale, which the company claims can house over 2,880 servers or 26 PBs of storage in a 40-foot container. The company offers customers a choice of its own blade server and blade storage systems or third-party equipment.

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