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The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study separates containerized data centers into two types, depending on the cooling system design.
First generation units require some type of cooling infrastructure which could be an external chilled water source or some type of on-board or external cooling devices.
Second generation units make use of evaporative cooling that takes advantage of cooler ambient outside temperatures where suitable.
Both types require an external power supply, which could be from a power utility or from external power generation modules, the Laboratory said.
There are several scenarios where implementing containerized data centers may be a viable option for customers.
The first is as a way to quickly add server and storage capacity without the need to expand or build a physical data center building. This is because the typical solution is built to a customer's order by a systems vendor or integrator who can handle the installation and configuration of the servers, networking gear, and/or storage before the unit is shipped to the customer's site.
For instance, HP, which last Fall introduced a new facility that acts as an assembly line for its Performance Optimized Data Centers, or HP PODs, claims that it can build and configure one of the units in as little as six weeks, with the customer being responsible for adding the water, power, and networking.
Cisco, in the meantime, says its containerized data center takes 120 days from the day the order is cut to get it to the customer site.
Containerized data centers can also be used either as temporary housing for IT operations at a brick-and-mortar data center which is undergoing upgrades or retrofits of new equipment or as a way to add capacity to an existing data center. In such cases, the portable units can take advantage of existing power and cooling infrastructures.
Customers looking to collocate IT operations in a third-party data center may also be candidates for containerized data centers. In such a case, the container can be fully configured and trucked into an existing data center.
They can also be used for emergency deployments after a disaster, or in temporary deployments by certain organizations such as the military.
For all the buzz in the industry about portable containerized data centers, solution providers who have been working in data centers for years say they have seen very few in use.
However, they see both advantages and disadvantages to the technology.
Jim Wolford, owner and CEO of Atomic Data Centers, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based company which builds infrastructure for and manages seven data centers, said he has yet to see any interest in portable containerized data centers.
"All I've heard about these is from the vendors advertising them," Wolford said. "No customers ever say they want one. They're cute. I just don't see my customers asking for one to be brought in by crane to the top of one of their buildings."
Keith Norbie, vice president of sales at Nexus Information Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider, said he has yet to see a containerized data center, but he could see some possible use cases for the technology.
For instance, a containerized data center mounted on a semi-truck could roll into an area facing a disaster and be lit up within a couple of hours, Norbie said. "If you have a disaster, you need a disaster recovery data center, but customers might not want to buy a full disaster center in advance," he said.
Next: Disaster Recovery, Data Center Use Debated