As Cisco works to maintain their datacenter infrastructure hardware dominance with their soup-to-nuts datacenter hardware approach, they add support for this effort by introducing their own datacenter in a shipping container offering. This allows them to continue to enable their Unified Computing System model to maintain parity with their competitors like HP, Dell, and IBM as a one-stop-shop datacenter provider solution.
The datacenter container supports 16 racks, with up to 25kW of power to each rack. This first generation container offers only water-cooling, fully enclosed in each rack, which Cisco is claiming is unique in being installed through the bottom of the container, limiting the possibility of water from overhead chiller leaks damaging computing equipment. Each rack gets its own controller that dynamically optimizes the cooling for that rack and integrates with the container management system software. Cisco expects these modular containers to be able to deliver a PUE of 1.25 or less, which represents excellent energy efficiency.
Frankly, when I heard that Cisco was going to be offering their own containerized datacenters I was hoping for something that showed a leadership role in the market, and not what appears to be, based on this first offering, a "me too" offering, that just allows them to say that they can provide their customers with a datacenter in a box. While the in-rack cooling is interesting, it isn't, on its own, enough of a differentiator when compared to the complete line of modular datacenters available from the single-vendor competition, nor does it stand out from the completion offered by specialized vendors, who have really upped the engineering effort in their container datacenters, such as SGI.
For now, I'll reserve judgment on the Cisco containerized datacenter effort. They are telling us that this is a first effort and will be followed up by bigger and better boxes. This will need to be the case when compared to the efforts of HP, who have a dedicated facility for the production of their datacenter PODS and an established record of success in the market. In many ways, it's hard to see this as more than the Cisco response to that HP effort, given the back and forth nature of their business competition.