The uptake may be slow, but the steady stream of containerized data centers hitting the channel indicates that someone somewhere thinks there is a value proposition in portable, instantly accessible IT infrastructure.
Perhaps it's still a question of size, perhaps one of simple timing -- but the hunt for the perfect formula is likely to continue in the hope that demand for a plug-and-play data center will hit its stride as the IT industry transitions to virtual and cloud environments.
HP took the wrappers off its latest design this week, the 20-foot Performance-Optimized Datacenter (POD), providing both a smaller footprint and lower price point than the company's previous 40-foot design. Starting at about $600,000 (that's POD-only -- IT equipment is extra), the unit provides up to 50 U racks, with both hot and cold aisles, the latter of which can go up to 90 degrees. It also has a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.25, which should draw some interest from enterprises looking to expand their physical plant with minimal impact on the power envelope.
HP's move comes on the heels of a new initiative from IBM and APC by Schneider Electric that combines Big Blue's Portable Modular Data Center (PMDC) with Schneider's InfraStruxure power architecture. The move allows IBM to employ a modular container design that can be deployed quickly but still provides for a certain amount of customization for unique environments. IBM currently provides 20-, 40- and 53-foot designs.
And while it seemed for a moment that the smaller firms like Verari that initially got the container ball rolling were getting ready to bow out under pressure from the big guys, it appears they are going to be around for a little longer after all. Verari founder David Driggers has apparently reasserted financial control of the company and is focusing its development on blade-based modular designs and container systems built on the company's Forest line.
Still, all of this activity begs the question: "Who is buying these things?" A few high-profile users like Microsoft are showcasing some massive new container designs as they ramp up new cloud services, but we have yet to see the technology trickle down to medium-sized and small organizations in meaningful numbers. Perhaps, as The Register's Timothy Prickett Morgan argues, the rank and file won't come on board until we see ultra-small solutions, on the order of a Porta Poddy or smaller. However, the conundrum here is that the smaller you go, the easier it is to configure a few servers and a storage array on a couple of racks, so why bother with a container system unless time is really of the essence?
In the end, though, time may be the critical factor if cloud services prove to be as lucrative as many experts predict. As third-party IT providers, cloud operations will live and die by their ability to meet service level agreements. And as new customers come on board, new resources will have to be provisioned quickly and efficiently as data loads increase.
In that scenario, then, containers will fit in nicely.