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Data Centers To Go: Container Computing and Modular Data Centers

Data Centers To Go: Container Computing and Modular Data Centers

Considering the inordinate amount of effort enterprises put into planning for the future -- scrutinizing trends with obsessive-compulsive intensity, applying analysts’ expert, and so on -- actually predicting a data center’s needs a few years down the road all too often remains a frustrating exercise. Should the organization plan for aggressive expansion, only to find a data center that’s half-full five years later? Or is it better to play it safe, expecting modest growth, and realize too late that the operation has outgrown its walls? Either way means trouble.

It doesn’t have to be that way. A somewhat recent innovation -- modular data centers -- gives CIOs and data center managers a much more flexible upgrade path. Challenging the traditional (read: expensive, slow to build and deploy, and decidedly immobile) brick-and-mortar model for building data centers, the typical players in big data hit upon an idea that sounds like something from the mind of Wile E. Coyote: stuff IT infrastructure inside of shipping containers.

Container Computing: Benefits of the Box

For those living in a, well, shipping container for the last six or seven years, the practice of setting up servers in a shipping container is sublimely self-explanatory. Standard shipping containers are modified to hold servers, networking components, and related hardware, but they’re the same containers that circle the globe every year by the millions. Think big iron in big iron.

The advantages of modular data centers are numerous. For starters, they’re “portable” -- not exactly what you think of when you hear “mobile computing,” but moving shipping containers from here to there is infinitely easier than relocating a traditional server farm. Deployment time is measured in months rather than years, and container computing is typically cheaper to deploy, as well.

Modular data centers tend to be more efficient, as well. Average data center PUE (power usage effectiveness, the amount of power delivered to a data center over the amount of power the data center’s IT hardware uses, where a value of 1.0 is perfect) is a slippery stat, but a recent Digital Reality Trust survey of IT execs at large North American companies pegged the average data center’s PUE at 2.9. Companies offering modular data centers frequently boast solutions with a PUE of 1.2 or better.

“The industry is at an inflection point,” says Troy Rutman, Director of Corporate Communications for IO, a company that specializes in modular data centers. “Modular data centers have now been around long enough to generate real world comparisons vs. traditional raised-floor environments.  You’re seeing this in the research underway at the major analyst firms this year.”

William Van Winkle has been a full-time tech writer and author since 1998. He specializes in a wide range of coverage areas, including unified communications, virtualization, cloud computing, storage solutions and more. William lives in Hillsboro, Oregon with his wife and 2.4 kids, and -- when not scrambling to meet article deadlines -- he enjoys reading, travel, and writing fiction.

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