New HP data center container goes double wide

Hewlett-Packard’s EcoPOD is a double-wide data center container that gives technicians more room to work in. But managers still have issues with the data center container approach.

Is being able to comfortably service the gear in a data center container too much to ask? Not anymore, says Hewlett-Packard.

HP’s new EcoPOD, announced at the company’s DISCOVER user show earlier this month, aims to right the serviceability wrongs of its predecessors. It takes its cues from mobile home design, combining two 40-foot IT pods and sandwiching them together to form one double-wide data center container. This design creates an extra-wide hot aisle, from which technicians can access and service equipment more easily. Industry experts welcomed this advancement but raised several other concerns about the EcoPOD.

The problem with data center containers
Traditional data center containers designed around the 40-foot ISO shipping container have been largely non-starters, because it is difficult for technicians to access the equipment inside them.

“It’s certainly one of the things that we didn’t like about [HP’s earlier PODs],” Jason Schafer, research manager for data center technologies at Tier 1 Research.

That was a common complaint from HP data center container customers, said Glenn Keels, an HP director of marketing.

“The biggest hurdle we’ve had to broad adoption [of containerized data centers] has been serviceability,” he said.

With the EcoPOD, you get container-style density and time to market, without forcing technicians “to crawl around in a hot aisle -- literally,” Keels added.

Inside the new HP data center container
Otherwise known as the HP POD 240a, the EcoPOD comes with 44 50U racks with average rack densities of up to 44kW, for a total of 2.3 MW. Cooling comes in the form of free air, direct expansion (DX) assist, or full DX, delivering a power usage effectiveness rating between 1.05 to 1.30, depending on environmental conditions. EcoPODs are available for ordering today through HP’s PODworks service, with delivery times as low 12 weeks.

The EcoPOD’s double-wide design “is a big step in the right direction,” but there are other design aspects that will give data center managers pause, Schafer said. For example, EcoPOD’s average rack density of 44kW is “far beyond the needs of the mass market,” which stand at seven to 10kW, he said.

This gives data center managers more flexibility to deploy high-density IT equipment, but it also means higher costs in terms of power distribution and generation.

“It’s much more expensive if you overbuild,” Schafer said.

Others data center operators said ISO shipping containers just aren’t a good fit for housing data centers, no matter how many of them you put together.

“The ISO container is not very large and was never designed for that purpose,” said George Slessman, CEO of i/o Data Centers, a provider of wholesale data center space based on proprietary data center modules. “A lot of those [data center container] products, you can’t even get an EMC array or a [IBM] zEnterprise through the door.”

Slessman’s company takes a different approach to modular data centers, offering full-height modules with large doors, four-foot-wide cold aisles and three-foot-wide hot aisles. The goal is to create “very comfortable environments” tailored to the real-world needs of IT organizations, he said.

Data center demand: Something’s gotta give
The economy has put a real damper on data center buildouts, but Slessman, like HP, predicts that will change.

“Over the past couple of years, IT departments have been incredibly scrappy,” he said.

Still, despite server virtualization projects and other efforts to stave off new data center construction, demand for data center capacity continues unabated, and IT departments will not be able to manage with existing resources forever. When that day comes, IT won’t go down the traditional brick-and-mortar route, with its long lead times and high capital costs, Slessman said.

“No one wants to go to the board and ask for a two-year $250 million construction project,” he said. “What they’re doing now is looking for a different way of doing things.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director at abarrett@techtarget.com, or follow @aebarrett on twitter.

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