In April we predicted that this would be the break-out year for container data centers. In July we posted more information about container data centers when we were working MEP cost models for container-based facilities. The year is half over now, and though the “break-out” has yet to happen there have been some very notable developments that deserve discussion. Let’s start here by reflecting on those things that make container data centers interesting for enterprise IT.
Features and Opportunities
Agile IT is critical in order to meet the dynamic demands of the Business today, and in this respect, containers can be a valuable weapon in the arsenal.¬† Containers bring agility in several ways.¬†
First, they can be mobile or not.¬† This delivers a capability to quickly implement a substantial data processing footprint (because container data centers are very dense in CPU, disk, or both) where it’s needed, and to consider that placement of data processing as either temporary or permanent.¬† This temporal implementation opportunity is a feature of containers that has endeared Disaster Recovery planners.¬† In fact, some executives at container manufacturers have publicly stated that DR is the key market for containers.¬† I think that geographically diverse multi-site enterprises (e.g., chain big-box retail) are a great application for a mobile DR capability.¬† While surely there’s interest within the DR market space, I think it’s important to be broader minded toward more active roles within the enterprise.
The mobility aspect is a key advantage too, for applications in which lots of processing power has to be relocated often.¬† Military and Homeland Security applications are a perfect example of this.¬† My posts about the cargo ship data centers and the use of containers for on-deck IT space show a rather natural environment for containers in the mobility context.
The modularity of container data centers is another interesting feature that brings opportunities for the enterprise.¬† Containers can be a solution for an enterprise whose data center facility has run out of space but circumstances do not permit immediate relocation or construction of a new facility.¬† I see examples of this very frequently.¬† I also think that this modularity has a role in planning new data center facility construction, as a mitigation of the risk of overbuilding (which is also quite real).
On this point about designing facilities around the container data center concept, the Microsoft Chicago data center is the most public example.¬† I’ve been collaborating with data center construction partners on this topic too, and so far we estimate that the MEP implementation costs are more or less on par with one another, when comparing equally capable facilities with a traditional model versus one in which the raised floor is delivered through a collection of containers.
New Product Developments, but Buyers Remain on the Sidelines
The continued development and steady release of products in the container data center space shows that there’s strong confidence in the market opportunity for these products.¬†
Hewlett-Packard introduced the HP Performance Optimized Data Center (HP POD).¬† HP is known to do an exceptional job with product development and the fact that the POD is said to accommodate 3rd part equipment as well as HP’s own, this could be a formidable player on the field.¬† I don’t know of any POD implementations (or sales) at this writing.
We’ve also seen a European player enter the game.¬† Lampertz released the Outdoor Room container data center.¬† Leveraging their pedigree in physical security, the differentiator for the Outdoor Room is the WK II burglary and fire class B1 protection, as well as a stated resilience to water and dust.¬† In addition, EMP protection and even handgun and rifle ammunition tolerance is available.
Sun continues to market its product, the Modular Datacenter S20 (MD).¬† Dell continues to talk about its container product, but as best I can tell this is still in development.¬† We’ll look forward to that release as there are some interesting MEP features included.¬†¬† IBM is pushing the Portable Modular Data Center (PMDC), which is offered in more than one physical format.¬† We’ve discussed IBM’s efforts in this area in earlier posts. ¬†The Verari FOREST container data center is mentioned in discussions, but from what I can tell there’s very little momentum there.¬† My repeated calls to Verari sales in this area have all fallen as unreturned voice mail, even after polite escalation at Verari corporate.
The product that seems to have the most wind in its sales still seems to be Rackable’s Ice Cube. ¬†Between Rackable and Sun, it seems progress has moved beyond the tire-kicking stage and perhaps one or both of these manufacturers will create the break-out we’ve expected.¬† A big advance for Rackable in my opinion is their recent partnership with IBM to equip Ice Cubes with BladeCenter equipment as an option.¬† While Rackable is a leader in high density, low power data processing equipment, enterprise sales would be challenged by IT departments already wedded to the 2-3 letter acronym hardware vendors.¬† This is a big deal in my view, and kudos to Rackable for advancing in this area.¬† Rackable has also been identified as the container provider for IDS’s cargo ship data center fleet that is anticipated soon this year.
In summary, the momentum around containers continues to build and the opportunities we saw earlier still exist and in fact are becoming even more tempting.¬† Time will tell what development or critical mass is necessary to break the ice and create the sales activity to keep this ball rolling.