Modular data centers have been touted as more scalable, more reliable, and more energy efficient than any type of data center before them. But they really aren’t so new a concept.
Intel Corporation began rolling out high-density chip-simulation data centers nearly a decade ago based upon a prototypical design of constant size and power density and with the same IT, power and cooling systems everywhere. This approach made it easy for them to manage their operating efficiencies and to deploy their resources incrementally over time as demand increased. Several years later, HP got into the act on a larger scale by rolling out several 100,000-square-foot (sq ft) data centers to consolidate its global resources and prepare for escalating growth projections. Each center was designed to provide four 25,000-sq-ft pods with dynamic power and cooling controls ready to respond to IT demand in real time.
Since then, everyone has gotten into the act, with the likes of 365 Inc and Digital Realty Trust rolling out smaller data center pods. These developments have convinced most all of us that the future lies in smaller, more controllable environments that are more energy efficient, more operationally efficient, more flexible, more scalable, more reliable, and more maintainable than ever before. Not bad … so, what else could we ask for?
CONTAINERS VS. MODULES
Facilities designers like to size each module to match a specific set of power delivery equipment so that standard UPS, generator, and switch-gear sizes can applied effectively and without over-sizing these components or cooling systems.
Over the last few years, module sizes have shrunk from 3.6 megawatts (MW) to 2.4 MW to 1.2 MW.
IT operators, on the other hand, make us want to believe that a single row or a single aisle of racks sized to the capacity of a single router is closer to the ideal size. That way each module is easy to contain and cool, easy to build out and operate, and easy to monitor and control.
That single row or aisle of racks just might happen to fit into a standard 40-foot (ft) shipping container or maybe a 20-ft container. And those containers offer more than just efficiencies. Containers are universally accepted boxes, ready to be shipped anywhere in the world by rail, ship, or truck. They come prefabricated, pre-tested, and ready for delivery and installation. They are easily removed and returned to duty for technology refreshes and easily removed altogether when a real estate lease comes to an end.
For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, take a look at Microsoft’s online video that demonstrates the ease of fabrication, deployment, and operation of what may be the most efficient data spaces in the world, at http://bit.ly/e8Vres.
These containers translate into speed to market! And, that is what the internet is all about. That Microsoft has embarked upon such a deployment strategy with containers may have global implications for the internet. Google and other internet companies are also in the act and are now operating some of the most scalable and efficient data centers ever.
Please check out this video on Microsoft’s web site that so clearly articulates Microsoft’s Global Strategy for Cloud Computing. It is a must see, at http://bit.ly/hA3vNu. And, take a closer look at their Chicago Data Center Cloud Operations at http://bit.ly/eIEMfs.
And, if you want to see container cloud operations from the inside out, look at Google’s video http://bit.ly/gauH1r.
WHERE CAN WE GET SOME?
Container manufacturers are some of the most serious technology manufacturers in the world, including Dell, IBM, HP, Sun, Verari, SGI, Rackable, and PDI that all have unique and interesting solutions.
IBM’s Portable Modular Data Center (PMDC) is delivered by AST Modular, a wholesale provider of containerized and modular offerings, based in Barcelona. IBM offers 20-, 40-, and 53-ft versions of the PMDC container data center at http://bit.ly/dTIjVk.
Dell’s Modular Data Center (MDC), designed by Dell’s Data Center Solutions unit is positioning the company for a new environment in which servers are delivered by the rack load and sometimes by the container. This model promises to accelerate deployment time for data center capacity, shifting the racking and testing of servers from the customer premises to the manufacturer. Visit http://dell.to/gg4f1E.
HP Performance Optimized Datacenter (POD) delivers the immediate capacity, IT density, and flexibility needed to minimize constraints of schedule, location, and IT density. Visit http://bit.ly/eQvT6C.
SGI was one of the early players in the container data center sector with its water-cooled ICE Cube portable unit, which has been retooled to be cooled entirely by air. Fresh air cooling allows the unit to run outdoors in cool climates, improving energy efficiency by foregoing mechanical refrigeration. To view a detailed tour of the new unit, which allows for easy expansion and demonstrates how it remotely throttles fans up and down, visit http://bit.ly/dMdLMK.
PDI’s i-CON Modular Data Center can help customers deploy data center capacity cheaper and faster than traditional structures. i-CON was specifically designed to help customers ride the wave of this next-generation infrastructure by giving them the power and flexibility they need while keeping an eye on cost and efficiency savings. Visit http://bit.ly/hy1Jtu.
Pelio & Associates of Silicon Valley is offering multi-tenant “container colo” centers that allow companies to quickly deploy containers or modular data centers in third-party space in Santa Clara, CA. They plan to fill the 24,000-sq-ft building with up to 23 containers for customers seeking to rapidly deploy capacity and achieve the desired speed-to-market and strategic deployment of capital at a lower total cost. Visit http://bit.ly/fKcvSQ.
CONTAINERS OR MODULES
Many in the data center industry are skeptical that containers will ever see wide adoption beyond the mobile requirements, temporary capacity, and novel designs like the cloud computing facilities being built by Microsoft and Google. However, that’s starting to change. Container vendors have reported sales to major telecom companies, military and government customers, and other unexpected entities.
But new modular designs from Blade Room and NxGen have taken the lead to get us back “outside of box” and into a new era of modular construction with designs that look more like traditional data centers than shipping containers. These modules include prefabricated metal structures and equipment skids ready to deliver and assemble on site. These facilities promise to provide nearly the same speed to market and incremental deployment of capital of containers while offering the more flexible environments for future changes in technologies and power, space, and cooling demands.
The English are manufacturing prefabricated data center facilities at BladeRoom as described at their site (http://bit.ly/fKcvSQ). And NxGen is delivering similar products in the USA, offering over 50 pre-engineered and pre-tested high-density modular designs of up to 3,600 sq ft, as shown at http://www.bladeroom.com/. NxGen is currently delivering a 10+ MW data center to a major internet company in fewer than 37 weeks and at a cost savings of 30 percent over traditional construction, while meeting stringent client specifications for security, power, and reduced operating costs.
I/O Data Centers have taken a similar leadership position to provide services to those who want the benefits of modular data centers without owning one. The i/o ANYWHERE modular data center is delivered as a service and includes all of the critical infrastructure required for a “high-density, always-on data center.” Their patent-pending service is a fully integrated data center solution, engineered to the customer’s service level objective, including a 100 percent uptime SLA, and is delivered with up to 20 modules, customized to the customer’s requirement and delivered to the customer’s location, to a dedicated off-site location, or at one of I/O’s data centers in a matter of weeks-not months or years. Visit http://bit.ly/eT5W2g.
DESIGN FLEXIBILITY AND LONGEVITY
Changes in technology will continuously challenge modular designs in the future, as low energy servers, storage, and networks become more prevalent and as electronics capable of continuous operations at temperatures of well over 100°F appear in our racks…maybe sooner than later.
Cooling distribution systems may have to be flexible enough to accommodate evaporative, air and/or water economizers while cooling with high velocity air and with water inside the rack. And, refrigerants and conductive cooling systems like the Clustered Systems technology may find their ways into these facilities as well.
Electrical distribution systems may have to accommodate direct current power and high-voltage alternating current systems, and maybe even power over ethernet (PoE), and Cat5 network cables.
Although it is easy to see that changes in infrastructure will be much more readily accommodated by modular, skid-mounted, and containerized facilities…planning for these changes in the future will differentiate the winners from the losers somewhere down the road.
STANDARDIZATION IS KEY
Finally, because the greatest value of containers and modules is the expedient and economical speed to market, we can’t afford to allow unexpected obstacles to get in the way of a “just in time delivery.” Large deployments of container data centers can be challenged unnecessarily if product and delivery standards are not well established and enforced in the procurement process.
Containers with unique electrical power adapters, chilled-water pipe couplings, and network cable adapters can ruin installation schedules as can poorly located connections. And, IT rack and server spaces that vary from container to container and from vendor to vendor also confuse and undermine our implementation plans to quickly and decisively start up our operations.
Just as the personal computer industry once struggled with differences between the features and connections between IBM, HP, Dell, and Apple desktop and laptop computers, so the container industry is struggling to standardize our container and modular products. This is an area where we need to find leadership amongst the users of these products and services to help make sure that our data center operators will succeed.
CRITICAL FACILITIES ROUND TABLE
In April of 2011, the Critical Facilities Round Table (CFRT) will meet at Pelio and Associates container data center in Santa Clara to witness plans for the implementation of a 23-container data center facility on Space Park Drive. CFRT is a non-profit organization based in the Silicon Valley that is dedicated to the open sharing of information and solutions amongst our members made up of critical facilities owners and operators. Please visit our Web site at www.cfroundtable.org or contact us at 415-748-0515 for more information.