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In such a case, groups of customers or solution providers could consider investing in a containerized data center as a form of disaster recovery insurance policy, Norbie said. "You could have several companies buy shares in one and have it ready in case of a disaster," he said.
Wolford disagreed about the usefulness of a portable containerized data center in a disaster.
"If Hurricane Katrina hits again, there's no reason to rush out and put new servers in," he said. "I might help customers with getting the Internet set up. But I'd rather keep the servers out of a disaster zone."
Data center owners also debate the value of containerized data centers.
Jordan Jacobs, director of corporate strategy at Phoenix NAP, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based provider of data center services from its own data center facilities, said his company is not planning to use containerized data centers.
Jacobs said he sees two types of containerized data centers.
The first, which Jacobs said could be useful in certain circumstances, are those which are filled with only servers, but have no integrated cooling, UPS, or power. "Instead of ordering 3,000 Dell servers, each in one box, and then configuring them in a data center, they could be done in a container," he said. "If a server goes bad, it can be thrown away."
The second, which Jacobs said are probably not as useful given the state of many data centers in the market today, are those where one container is full of servers, one full of UPSs, and one full of power equipment.
"Data centers are already modular," he said. "Large data centers already have the pads in place, the power run in. So customers can just drop their equipment in. Our data center started with 4 MWs (megawatts) of UPS, was expanded to 8 MWs, and we can add a new module to get 12 MWs. Coolers and chillers are factory-built and brought in on pallets and installed in three days."
For those who argue containerized data centers are power-efficient, Jacobs answers that if customers only consider the cost of connecting chilled water, the efficiency rating is still high. "But you need to include the UPS and the generator in the efficiency rating," he said. "And what about the NOC (network operating center)? The monitoring?"
There may be certain circumstances when a customer might want to drop in a portable data center plug in a portable generator, and connect chilled water, but not during a disaster, Jacobs said.
"Where will the water come from?" he said. "Where do you get the diesel? In a disaster, it's easier to drop in new generators and get existing equipment up and running."
Pelio & Associates, a Saratoga, Calif.-based real estate developer, on the other hand had earlier this year opened a new data center in Santa Clara, Calif., that is essentially an open area designed to accept preconfigured data center modules built into 40-foot and 20-foot containers instead of racks of IT equipment.
Customers don't want to pay for a 50,000-square-foot facility just to flip the switch on two or three racks of servers, storage, and networking gear, said Les Pelio, co-owner of Pelio & Associates. By using containerized data center modules, customers only have to pay for what they need, and get almost instant access to the new IT resources, Pelio said.
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