Data center containers -- ISO shipping containers packed with IT equipment -- may be a non-starter for most organizations, but containerized modules of data center infrastructure is another story.
Data center containers like Hewlett-Packard’s POD and Cisco Systems’ new Containerized Data Center require too big a one-time, up-front server purchase to be palatable for most IT organizations. But data center facilities operators are intrigued by a new generation of containerized data center modules such as containerized uninterruptible power supplies (UPSes) and cooling.
Managed services provider Terremark recently bought a 480 kW containerized UPS from Active Power as a stop gap solution to help bring a large, new colocation customer on board.
“There was no more room in the data center for a UPS,” said Ben Stewart, senior vice president for facility engineering for Terremark. “By pulling up an Active Power PowerHouse, we were able to provide the additional power, quick and easy.”
Already a fan of Active Power’s flywheel-based UPS systems, the PowerHouse was an obvious choice, but Stewart said he’d consider other containerized infrastructure, such as pump packages and chillers.
“They’re absolutely on the table,” he said.
The main appeal of these infrastructure modules is their reduced lead time -- in the case of the PowerHouse, about 12 weeks. The fact that they are mobile is also a huge plus for the colocation provider.
“When this customer requirement goes away, we can just pick it up and move it,” Stewart said. “We can alreay think of two or three places it could go.”
And for colocation providers, containers that can be placed on roofs maximize the amount of real estate that can be built out as “white space” for IT infrastructure, Stewart said.
Some proponents of containerized data center modules see them as the future of data center design.
At his Uptime Institute Symposium keynote earlier this month, George Slessman, CEO of i/o Data Centers, predicted the end of days for traditional brick-and-mortar data centers.
“For a long time, we’ve been building custom, one-off data centers, one at a time,” said Slessman. For the most part, that has been fine, but a combination of data center economics plus the rampant growth of IT will soon make that model obsolete, he argued.
“The last facilities-based data center ‘snowflake’ will be built in the next 24 months,” Slessman said.
Instead, the data center will go to modular designs, where key elements like power distribution and cooling are pre-configured and will snap into a room.
For example, Schneider Electric offers an indirect evaporative and air-to-air heat exchanger cooling module EcoBreeze and recently added a chilled water module to its containerized lineup. The company is fielding orders from “pretty aggressive early adopters” right now, said Kevin Brown, vice president for data center offerings for Schneider Electric, adding that a slow shift to containerized solutions is under way.
But facilities engineers like Terremark’s Stewart aren’t sure whether containerized data center modules are a stop-gap solution or whether they will be built into greenfield data center designs, as i/o’s Slessman predicts.
“The main reason you would do this is to cut down on lead times,” Stewart said. But Terremark has already whittled the time it takes to build a data center down to a mere six months.
“We would look at containerized solutions if the go-to-market data was very ambitious,” he said. “If it were four months, we’d have to go containerized.”