IBM's Portable Modular Data Center is similar to Sun's Modular Datacenter, formerly called Project Blackbox, as well as Rackable Systems' Ice Cube and similar models from Verari Systems and American Power Conversion, or APC. It's essentially a data center in a 20- or 40-foot shipping container that can be plopped down anywhere provided available power and chilled water.
The Big Blue announcement includes two other products: the Enterprise Modular Data Center, which is a standardized raised-floor data center that can be built out in modules of 5,000 to 20,000 square feet, as well as Modular High-Density Zone, which can convert an existing 200- to 400-square-foot raised-floor space into an area that can handle more computing and power density.
"I think they all sort of come together as an attempt to offer more standardized, more effective data center solutions," said Mike Kahn, a managing director at research firm the Clipper Group. "We've seen servers get standardized in different ways, and the same with storage. It makes sense unless you've got such diverse needs that you can't use standard offerings."The Enterprise Modular Data Center
The Enterprise Modular Data Center can be thought of as data center building blocks of sorts. Users can build out data centers horizontally by adding 5,000- to 20,000-square-foot modules, or they can build them out vertically by increasing power density from 100 watts to 300 watts per square foot.
IBM sells the product to enable users to more easily and quickly satisfy expanding data center needs. Brian Canney, an IBM site and facilities services executive, said taking this approach offers serious potential time savings: It can be 25% faster than a traditional customized approach.
Canney said the model is a raised-floor, hot-aisle/cold-aisle design with 2N uninterruptible power supply (UPS) redundancy and a data center infrastructure efficiency, or DCIE of 60%, which is the same as a power usage effectiveness, or PUE of 1.67. While it may be offered in the future, non-raised floor is not available yet, said Canney.
Portable Modular Data Center
IBM's version of the data center in a shipping container is not much different from offerings from Sun, Rackable or others. Sun was one of the first to come out with its Project Blackbox in October 2006, renaming earlier this year to the Modular Datacenter S20.
"It's not a new idea," Kahn said. "People have had these portable, preassembled data centers before. My feeling is that it's a different way to go. It doesn't mean it will appeal to everybody. If you need to extend your data center and don't want to spend $10 million for a new one, this could be a way to add capacity without that 30-year capital investment."
This data center design has hit the mainstream a bit more, particularly with Microsoft, which has built a new data center outside Chicago that includes only containers, supposedly from Rackable Systems.
IBM sells either a 20- or 40-foot-long container that has all the data center requirements built in: IT equipment, UPS, batteries, power distribution, fire suppression and so on. It can support up to 30 kW per rack and about 1,400 blade servers in its 40-foot-long incarnation.
Canney enumerated some of the unique features of IBM's offering: It is lined with special insulation to prevent condensation, offers protection from radio frequency interference (RFI) and electromagnetic frequency interference (EMFI), and is built on a rail system so that racks can be pulled out to create a service aisle behind them.Modular High-Density Zone
Finally, IBM offers a service to convert a 200- to 400-square-foot raised-floor space into a so-called high-density zone. Canney said the service can convert 2 kW or 3 kW racks into 25 kW racks. Though details are limited, Canney said IBM can do so by using close-coupled cooling, hot-aisle/cold-aisle design, hot-aisle containment, and by using IBM's own Rear Door Heat eXchanger.