Valet Parking the Data Center Container

Julius Neudorfer

Now that you have successfully mastered virtual servers, are piloting virtual desktops and are almost ready to go for full cloud computing, you come to realize that your existing data center cannot handle the power and cooling requirements of all the new equipment.

Blazing ahead, you persuade yourself and your senior management to go out on the leading edge and use containerized data centers. After all, Google and Microsoft are doing it, so it must be good. You called your favorite server vendor and just ordered 1,000 quad-core 1U servers pre-installed in its container system. Luckily, you are a major customer, and that entitled you to be fast-tracked and your order is upgraded to the quick ship program. (The vendor even gave you 10 percent off the container price since you ordered 1,000 servers).  Almost magically, you will get the entire data-center-in-a-box in six weeks!

Not only that, it will make you the 'green hero," since the container vendors all claim it is more energy-efficient than your 'old-fashioned' data center that was built in the last millennium. Plus, you will have a lower 'cardboard footprint' since there's no need to box and unbox 1,000 servers, so look at all the wasted cardboard and styrofoam that was saved (at least in theory).

Wow! How great it is going to be, no more meeting with architects, engineers, construction committees and having to answer all those annoying questions like how many racks, how much power and cooling, future growth, etc. Your preferred server-container vendor has all the answers, and it is going to be just plug-and-play. Now instead of 18 to 24 months to build out your new facility, it will be ready in six weeks! And if you need more capacity, just call and say, 'Please build another container just like the last one."

Six weeks later your 'data-center-in-a-box' shows up just as promised, and the trucker asks 'Hey Mack, Where do you want this?' Hmmm, good question, you think. Well, I guess he could just leave it in the parking lot, or maybe we could

So what do you do now? You start with a call to 'Joe,' your facilities person, and ask him if he could have it parked and hooked up by the weekend. Ouch! All of sudden, more questions than answers seem to appear.  It seems that your new data center container needs conditioned power, so you still need a UPS and generator (or perhaps two for redundancy) to provide clean power (up to 500 KW for each container or 700KW for the high-density version), and by the way, it also needs 15,000 to 20,000 gallons per hour of chilled water.

What now You find a copy of the local Yellow Pages (OK, so you Google it) to try to quickly find a place to park and power your two new containers -  yes, you decided it was such a great idea that your ordered two to start. Oddly enough, you found many hosting sites that would be happy to rent you plenty of rack space, but no one seemed able to house, power and cool your new data center container.

For those that may be unaware of the new developments in this area, this year HP, IBM, Dell and Sun are all offering containers that come in 20-foot or 40-foot sizes, outfitted with racks, power distribution and cooling systems. These units are designed to accept high-density computing equipment -- bladeservers or 1U servers and/or storage arrays. They offer extremely high density,  20 racks @ 10-25 KW per rack all contained in a delivered package. They can be purchased empty or fully outfitted with your preferred vendors' servers. Once onsite, they 'only' require conditioned power, chilled water (lots of it) and network connections.

Clearly they offer come unique advantages 'inside the box' as well as some disadvantages. However, they also create some facilities-support challenges to organizations not fully prepared to deal with their specialized requirements. Nonetheless, if this catches on, everyone will have them in the future. So where do you park them? Well, just as organizations are looking to cuts costs and move the burden of running a data center by moving  their computing systems to dedicated hosting or data center providers, soon there may be 'container hotels," with the necessary facilities and connection to dock your data center container. They may be existing data centers, which adapted by just adding some truck bays, or they may be specialized facilities built just for this purpose. Like any good hotel, there will be a valet to park your container.  It just makes me wonder How much should you tip the valet?

So stay tuned, next time we will delve into the details of life in a data center container. Here's a hint: One vendor runs the cold aisle at 90�F.

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