Firm promises new take on containerized data centers

I/o Data Centers hopes to leapfrog the competition by developing what it claims will be a new, more integrated type of containerized data centre the company said on Friday.

I/o is best known for building and managing traditional brick-and-mortar data centres, but the company has been developing a containerized product for the past year and will make a formal announcement in two weeks, said Kindra Martone, i/o senior vice president and general manager, at the Datacenter Dynamics conference in San Francisco on Friday.

The company isn’t giving many details about the product yet, and Martone said it won’t be ready to go on sale when the formal announcement is made. I/o Data Centers will share some “high-level” details of what the product will look like and release it at a later date, she said.

The company did give some clues Friday about what it has planned, however. Andreas Zoll, i/o’s director of data center engineering, gave a talk at the conference on what the “next generation” of containerized data centres will look like. At the end of Zoll’s speech, Martone said the company will sell just such a product.

One difference will be that most current containerized data centres, sold by Hewlett-Packard, IBM, SGI and others, are built using standard 20- and 40-foot shipping containers. The next generation — and presumably the upcoming product from i/o — will use a custom-built container that provides more space for the equipment inside, Zoll said.

“You’re spending a lot of money on these modular solutions. Do you want to squeeze them into an existing box or build something that really suits your needs? I think we’ve done a lot of squeezing in the past,” he said.

The next generation will also come with the power and cooling equipment built in, he said. Today, customers often locate their containers near an existing data centre because they need access to cooling, power and back-up power supplies. For remote locations, customers can also buy cooling gear and generators that are packed into separate containers, then linked to the container with the IT gear.

Future products will have those pieces integrated from the start, allowing them to be more finely tuned for energy efficiency and making the containers “location independent,” Zoll said. He suggested they will be delivered as a single unit, rather than multiple containers, but it wasn’t entirely clear.

They can also be fitted with satellite hook-ups so they can be remotely managed and monitored. And Zoll even suggested that future containers could be entirely self-sufficient, using compressed gas for power, so they don’t need to be operated near a power supply. Martone wouldn’t say if that’s one of the goals for i/o’s own product.

For example, a self-contained data center might provide computing resources on a LAN at a military site or on an oil rig.

The company clearly hopes to shake up the market, but it faces several challenges, including the fact that there are already several established players and it may be some time before i/o’s first product goes on sale.

Unlike other makers of containerized data centers, i/o Data Centers doesn’t have its own IT equipment to sell. Containers from HP, IBM and others can accommodate third-party equipment, but they often ship filled primarily with the vendor’s own gear.

I/o Data Centers could try to promote that as an advantage, saying it doesn’t have a vested interest in the equipment it recommends for customers.

The market is still relatively new, Zoll noted. “We’re trying to decide whether we’re still looking at a niche market or the future of data centres,” he said.

IDC has estimated that just 84 containerized data centres will be sold this year, with the figure doubling next year, but it has also said its estimate might be conservative.

One of the main arguments for containers is that they allow a company to add extra compute capacity in less than 100 days, versus a year or more to build a new data centre. They also defer the high costs of building a new facility, and they generally can be made much more energy efficient.

Containers are less flexible, however, in terms of the equipment they can contain. And they remain unfamiliar to many data centre managers, some of whom question the security of locating a portable data centre outdoors.

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