Do containerized datacenters have a future?

Do containerized datacenters have a future?

Summary: What part can a datacenter container play in the future of your business?


When you think about your datacenters do you consider the potential of containerized datacenter modules as an upgrade or replacement model?  Over the last 6 months I've talked to a lot of people about datacenters in containers, but almost all of them have been involved, in some fashion, with vendors in the datacenter market.

But when I talk to IT guys, they don't seem to have containers anywhere on the horizon for their datacenters, nor do many of them have much of an opinion. The few that do are pretty black and white about it; they can cite specific reasons why a container would or would not work for their business model. But those with definite opinions represent only a few percent of the IT folks I talk to on a regular basis.

This response is unsurprising. Even the datacenter community is pretty well split on the issue of containerized computing. While there are some very significant players in the datacenter container market, none of them talk about what kind of volume they are doing in selling their containers.  When you talk to people in the process of building new datacenters, they are very hip to the phrase "modular" but to them, that doesn't mean container.

Last week I talked to SGI about their ICE Cube datacenter container announcement. They can pack serious computing power into their 20 and 40 foot container offerings, and with their latest generation offer both air-cooled options and support for standard racks, along with their previously supported  custom half-depth rack containers. With support for standard racks, they significantly increase the potential uses of the modular container systems.

At the same time Microsoft is announcing their new cloud computing R&D center in Taiwan, with a stated goal that includes delivering server designs optimized for cloud computing and containerized datacenters. So right off the bat they are sending the opposite message that SGI just sent.  SGI made the decision that support for standard rack equipment was important in sustaining their containerized datacenter model, Microsoft is looking for ways to make customized server hardware for their containerized computing.

Perhaps they are not opposite messages but simply the sides of the same coin; there is space in the datacenter container world for both custom and off-the-rack equipment support. But there isn't a clear message about datacenter containers that gives the customer a good feeling about the whole thing for more than just a special purpose point solution.

Right now, customers who even put datacenter containers on their list of potential technologies are looking at them in a vacuum; every vendor is a standalone who is more than happy to give out marketing message massaged information about their products. It's even hard to get actual customer success stories from the container vendors, as they will tell you that their customers are getting a competitive advantage by implementing their container technology and don't want to announce it to the world.

Is there a datacenter container in your future? It seems like an excellent idea for a growing SMB to invest in a turnkey modular system that allows the consolidation of the often ragtag computing systems that evolve as a business grows. But I have yet to see a good example of this type of use provided by a container vendor. No general purpose datacenter implementations; just spot and special purpose installations. Is this the future of the datacenter container? Let me know if you see a way that a containerized datacenter module could be used to improve your business model.

Topics: Storage, Data Centers, Hardware

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  • Yes and no?

    I really like the idea of the movable datacenter. To me they fall into the backup solution. I suppose it would not be hard to make them part of a permenant solution though.

    My biggest problem would be strategic placement around the area or out of state. Connections and power would have to be available, though you could use a container based generator to run it.

    What about quake zone use?
    • RE: Do containerized datacenters have a future?


      Do you see them havinig a place a a Disaster Recovery or Business Continuity solution? Vendors offering leases on cantainerized systems that are quickly available to replace a datacenter damaged due to environemental or natural disaster?

      That seems like a potential business opportunity for a container provider like HP or SGI.
      David Chernicoff
  • maybe, depends

    where's the competive advantage to going containerized?

    one is the obvious: being able to move compute in response to disaster, etc. this is a fairly small niche, since it assumes that the physical locality matters. and it doesn't much for the high-growth soa/cloudy stuff.

    the other advantage is pure modularity: if the container is a box that you simply plug in and benefit from, maybe you can save on machineroom building costs. considered this way, it's really modularizing the _room_, possibly changing whose budget carries the cost. whether a stack of containers in a shed is actually cheaper than a from-scratch machineroom - to build or operate, well, that remains to be seen. containers don't have any technological advantage that doesn't also apply to a non-containerized machineroom.
  • RE: Do containerized datacenters have a future?

    The single biggest benefit is the up to 45% reduction in OPEX that comes from the highly energy efficient design of container solutions. PUEs of 1.2 are common where as a typical existing data center runs at between 2.0 (full) and 4.0) nearly empty. That means that a container, fully loaded will pay back it's CAPEX with OPEX savings in under two years. Much less in countries with higher power costs.
    It is true that most of the containers made to date are made by server manufacturers whose primary aim is to service the need of the large server farm/cloud computing sites.
    At SmartCube, we have are busy building a unit which is designed to serve as a standard computer room, or a high density data center module, with an easy to service configuration and modularity inside the container allowing for even greater energy efficiency and growth.
    One more obvious point. If you already have a location with generator, network connections and access to water, installing a container should be a matter of days or weeks, compared to the months or years required to outfit a computer room or build a new data center.