Vendors Still Drawn to Containerized Data Centers

Arthur Cole
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Just how serious are the major platform providers taking the containerized data center movement? Serious enough to warrant continued investment and a steady rollout of new products.

No one is under the illusion that the enterprise industry will suddenly get "container fever." But with data needs on the increase and demand for rapid scale-out of physical resources still present, containers offer a ready-made solution for those who suddenly find themselves in a bind.

The latest to join the fray is Cisco, which this week came out with its own containerized data center (CDC) that the company says can be up and running within 120 days of purchase. Structurally, there is nothing unique about Cisco's design. It is built on a standard, 40-foot ISO container and holds up to 16 racks of equipment with 25 kW of power for each rack. One novel approach, though, is rack-based water cooling, which provides a more granular level of heat dissipation and allows for more flexibility in system configuration.

For Cisco, HP, IBM and other builders of container systems, there seems to be very little rush to gain any sort of dominance in the industry. In fact, as IDC's Michelle Bailey told HPCwire this week, selling containers is of secondary concern to getting servers, storage and other systems out the door. Less than 150 containers are expected to make it into customer hands this year, and even if that number doubles in 2012, we're still talking only the tiniest fraction of the overall enterprise market.

Overseas, focus is shifting not so much toward containerized data centers, but modularized ones. Providers like the UK's Colt Data Centre Services use a sectional approach that can more easily fit into existing facilities. The company has shrunk its offerings from the original 500 square meters down to 125 square meters, with power densities ranging from 750 watts to 3 kW per square meter. The company says it has devised more than 120 different design configurations, with roughly a four-month delivery window to anywhere in Europe.

Elsewhere, modularity is taking hold at some of the largest data centers in the world. India's Tulip Telecom recently tapped IBM for its Enterprise Modular Data Center (EMDC) to expand a central facility in Bengaluru. As a side benefit, IBM also has the inside track to provide a number of other systems, such as power, cooling and rack systems.

Originally, the containerized system was envisioned as a quick solution for primarily small firms looking to build an instant data infrastructure. Now that the cloud delivers much of that functionality with little more than a basic network and Internet access, the focus has shifted. Containers are still seen as instant data centers, but are likely to become the solution of choice for larger organizations when new resources are required and only on-site hardware will do.

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