Data Center Containers – On the Move

We’ve written quite a bit in this forum about containerized data centers, and our hope that in addition to providing great utility in current high density data processing implementations, they would also pave the way for a more pragmatic, modular approach to building data center space.¬† We still feel that there are improvements to be made regarding the cost of scaling the data center in alignment with near-time scaling of “the Business.”

After a period of many months during which there seemed to be little movement in the container world, the past few months have shown numerous new container product releases and announcements of new container concepts from an even wider array of suppliers.¬† It seems too, that the idea of “containers” is busting out from the limitations of shipping container form factors.¬† This development, we think, is indication of an approaching evolutionary step in the use of containerized space as a useful modular scaling option.

We will introduce a few of these new developments here, in order to present a view of the direction of new work in this area, and save detailed discussion on individual products for later posts.

Cloud World: Recap on the August event in San Francisco

This year’s Cloud World conference was a mashup of three industry conferences-¬† Open Source World, Next Generation Data Center (NGDC), and Cloud World.¬† Even with the combining of three (formerly) major industry events, the attendance volume still only merited the West wing of the Moscone Center.

It’s easy to blame the low attendance on the economy, but the low attendance could also have been the rather trite content of the conference sessions.¬† While I of course did not attend all the sessions, those that I did attend left me reminiscing about earlier conferences where there was thought provoking and informative presentations.¬† It’s not that the presenters were not informative.¬† It’s just that there was very little that seemed new or thought provoking.¬† Many of the NGDC sessions, while sporting different titles, were actually covering very similar and overlapping subject matter.

My real mission at the conference was to target those in attendance who are genuinely interested in acquiring Cloud resources, are in the process of building Cloud-based services, or who have been spending time analyzing the Cloud marketplace.  Of those that I spoke to, the following is a summary of their opinions and points of view:

Container Data Centers: “Waiting for Godot” meets “The Price is Right”

Regular readers of this blog will know that we are strong advocates of container data centers as a step toward modular data center design and as a facility component for extremely dense data processing.¬† Earlier posts talked about 2008 as a breakout year for containers (it wasn’t) and containers used as facility components in cargo ship data centers (haven’t seen them either).

It seems that 2009 isn’t going to click for containers either.¬† We’ve seen reaffirmations from Microsoft and select others that containers are still a planned component in the construction of data centers for very high density data processing, but this too seems to be lagging.

…Where are the containers?¬† They’re coming.¬† When?¬† They’re coming.

Container Data Centers: A Step Along the Green Path

As a bit of background and at the risk of stating the obvious, let’s quickly review some basics about energy efficiency and the Data Center.  It has been estimated that on average, electricity costs account for over 40% of data center operational expenses.  In 2006, American data centers consumed more electricity than all the televisions in America.  The cost to power a typical server now exceeds the cost to buy it, when viewed over a three-year horizon.  Data Centers typically operate more than 2.5 times the cooling capacity needed to maintain the IT equipment.  On average, less than 50% of the cool air in a chilled-air data center actually makes it to the IT equipment.

Those first few points are likely already well understood by the reader, or are at least consistent with other similar metrics quoted in the Green dialogue.  The last one, which speaks to the challenges of efficiently cooling IT equipment, is what I’d like to talk about in more depth.

Container Data Centers – Hard to Sell or Hard to Buy?

Earlier this year we talked about 2008 being a breakout year for container data centers. We’ve also discussed new developments and new product introductions by the container vendors as well as a number of established and emerging use cases.¬† It would appear though that the launch of container sales has yet to get underway.¬† In spite of the slow start, I continue to believe there are many good use cases for container data centers, and I see these as a momentum-builder for modular data center construction concepts (which are sorely needed).

We’ve recently begun work on an all-container data center concept for a new data processing facility to be located on the East Coast of the USA.¬† In the process of this work, I’ve reached out to all the container vendors I know of (Rackable Systems, Verari, Sun, HP, Dell, IBM, Lampertz) for capability and pricing information for potential inclusion of those products in this new project.¬† The experience I’ve had over the past month with these purchase inquiries shows that one of the obstacles to the breakout potential may simply be the difficulty in buying these products.

Still More Thoughts on Container Data Centers

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.

Update on Cargo Ship Data Centers

I promised an update on the progress of the ship-based data center concept floated (yes a pun) by International Data Security (IDS). A recent post on Silverback’s blog explains that the first launch (perhaps a pun) is now delayed until Q3 of 2008, and gives a few more details.

IDS continues to see the ship-based data center concept as a lucrative opportunity, given the continued demand for data center space, the notion that ship-based data centers can reduce the time to market by as much as 65% and that the Cap-Ex is estimated to be a third less than a comparable brick and mortar facility.

Ahoy Maty! Servers on the Poop Deck

‚ÄòTis true me hardies, the day o’ big data centers on the seven seas be upon us all. So cast off yer land lubberin’ server farms an’ hoist the main sail. We’re settin’ these servers afloat ‚Äòfore ye feel the bite of me floggin’ whip. Arrr.

Well, we’ve talked about data centers in salt mines, in abandoned ICBM silos, in renovated shopping malls, and now… on boats. ‚Big boats.

This one has been hard to get much information on, because the company is being stealthy about details. A firm by the name of International Data Security (IDS) has acquired a fleet of decommissioned cargo ships, and plans to outfit them as floating data centers. The first is said to be going online at Pier 50 in San Francisco imminently.

Before you say either, “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “These guys must be crazy,” consider the following points:

More Thoughts on Container Data Centers

In earlier posts and conversations, I’ve mentioned my interest in container data centers and the opportunities they bring for certain types of implementations and use cases. As a big fan of agility in IT in order to meet the dynamic demands of the Business, containers can be a valuable weapon in the arsenal.

In my conversations with Clients about the applicability of containers to their data center roadmaps, I often find myself involved in philosophical debates.  Part of this is due to the newness of the technology as well as preconceived notions of use cases for containers.  Part too, is due to the real fact that containers are very strong solutions in some use cases, and more of a strategic option to be evaluated in others.