Do containerized datacenters have a future?

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.


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