Containerized data centers – sorting through the confusion

The future for containerized data centers is a bit uncertain right now.


The future for containerized data centers is a bit uncertain right now. After a recent trip to the Uptime Symposium in Santa Clara, Calif., where modular data centers were the hot-topic, it seems that there’s more than a little confusion around the subject.

First – What exactly is a containerized data center? Dan Golding, of RagingWire, gave a great presentation pleading with analysts and media alike to take more consideration when talking about containerized data centers. Are we talking about data centers in an ISO container, data centers in a metal enclosure, a pre-fab module that’s not enclosed, or are we just talking about phased building with a modular approach? Heeding his advice, I’d like to clearly state that I am talking about data centers shipped in both ISO containers or any kind of metal enclosure. Henceforth I’ll refer to them as containerized modular data centers or CMDCs.

Second – How will the supplier market shake-out? There’s an abundance of vendors offering CMDC solutions, and based on the number of shipments tentatively estimated for 2012, it may be that there isn’t enough business to support the multitude of companies. Not only are there a lot of companies, but it’s also an interesting assortment: integrators, colocation providers, data center power manufacturers, server manufacturers, and electrical contractors are all throwing their hat in the game. What kind of company is best suited for this market? And how are they going to work with the other entities involved in the supply chain?

Third – What is the market for this? Sure, Amazon, Google, Microsoft are all publicizing their use of containers in their hyper-scale data centers. But these are the typical leading edge players, always ready and willing to innovate; and also creating their own solution, operating outside of the available market for the above mentioned suppliers. And what about those companies who don’t order thousands of servers at a time, and are operating IT loads of around 250 kW? It seems like a CMDC might be overkill in a data center this size, that maybe colocations or cloud services are a better choice.

But there are some major benefits to CMDCs that can be realized if implemented for the right application and customer. IO gave an impression-leaving demonstration of the security and monitoring capable in a CMDC. And if done correctly, standardization for international companies and faster deployments to meet rapid changes in business needs, can be achieved. So it seems CMDCs are here to stay, but how big will this market become? I’m venturing into a five month study of this market and plan on unraveling the confusion and answering these questions. 

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