HP Jumps Into Containerized Data Centers, Too
Published: July 17, 2008
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
When Sun Microsystems debuted the idea of putting working data centers inside standard shipping containers in October 2006, it was not intuitively obvious that this idea would take off in the market. Sun, and then Rackable Systems and Verari Systems, who both jumped in an offered their own data centers in containers last year, believe enough in the idea to put engineering and sales resources into the concept. And now HP is following suit.
The reasons why HP is jumping in with data centers in a can are simple, and we have heard them all before. Data centers are running out of power and space. It takes 12, 18, or 24 months to build a real data center, and putting an extension on one takes as much time and buckets of money. Electricity prices are rising fast--Consolidated Edition here in New York just announced a 22 percent price increase--so being more efficient really matters to the bottom line. More importantly, in a struggling economy, locking up money in capital budgets for one or two years is not something managers want to do. The speed of containerized data centers is as important as the compactness and efficiency of them.
HP's entry into containerized data centers is known as the Performance Optimized Data Center, which it shortens as POD instead of PODC. (You can see why, since the latter will make people think of the wimp on Happy Days. Then again, if HP called it the Freaking Optimized Network Container, it would have been FONC for short, and admins working inside the units could wear leather jackets and say "Aaaaaa" a lot with their thumbs up. But I digress. Frequently, and with enthusiasm.) HP is selling two variants of the PODs, one based on a 20-foot shipping container and the other based on a 40-foot container. Here's the outside of one of the 20-footers:
Yes, it looks like a giant ink cartridge. Until you open it up, anyway:
And then it looks like a whole lot of giant ink cartridges in a row, being fed by a puny human attendant.
Anyway, the 40-foot POD can pack a lot of computing and storage capacity into a small space, roughly the equivalent capacity that it takes to fill about 4,000 square feet in a brick and mortar data center. To be precise, using the new BL2x220c G5 blade server, which puts two whole two-socket Xeon servers on a single blade, HP can cram 3,520 server nodes inside the 40-foot box. Or, if storage is what you need, then HP can deploy StorageWorks arrays that have a combined 12,000 disk drives using 3.5-inch SCSI or SAS drives. The PODs use standard-width racks, which are 19-inches across, and normal rack-based machinery can be hooked into these racks. The racks are 50U high, however, not 42U high, which does two things. For one, on machines with back-to-front cooling, it means HP can isolate hot areas from cool areas and use energy more efficiently in the POD than is possible in a data center, which lets hot air into the cool areas over the top of the servers. (Which is kinda dumb, really.) By strictly controlling the hot and cool areas, HP can get the compute density up as high as 1,800 watts per square foot, which is a lot better than the 150 watts to 250 watts that are possible in the best of data centers these days. The roof-to-floor racks also allow them to be bolted to the top and bottom of the shipping container, which increases safety, and has the obvious effect of making 8U of rack space available for more computing or storage gear.
The 40-foot pod is able to handle as much as 600 kilowatts of computing and storage equipment, and when a container is loaded with gear, it can weigh as much as 50,000 to 80,000 pounds. (The disk drives are wickedly heavy.) According to Steve Cumings, director of infrastructure in the newly minted Scalable Computing and Infrastructure organization inside HP, which was created in May to chase HPC, cloud computing, Web 2.0, and other buzzword marketing spaces, the important measurement is a funny little efficiency rating called the PUE, short for Power Usage Effectiveness, which is the ratio of the overall power that goes into the data center from the power lines outside the building compared to the power consumed by IT resources as they are doing their job inside the data center. A typical data center is in the range of 2.0 for its PUE--meaning that it takes as much energy to cool the IT gear as it does to keep it doing its work. But a POD loaded up with gear has been measured with a PUE that comes in at 1.25 or less. Cumings says that no containerized data center on the market can deliver such a number--except those from HP.
Interestingly, HP says that it is IT agnostic when it comes to the gear inside the POD. "Our customers have told us that as much as possible, we need to mimic the environment inside the data center," explains Cumings, and that means HP will ship not only its own servers and storage inside the PODs, but also servers and storage from Dell, IBM, Sun, or anybody else. Cumings says that HP can configure, build, and deliver a POD with its own gear anywhere in the world using its Factory Express customization program from its Houston factory in six weeks or less; customers wanting to use non-HP gear have to leave time for the gear to get to Houston, and I am not sure how HP does the acquisition. (Imagine taking that phone call at an IBM or Sun reseller: "You want to buy what? And ship it where?") The PODs will be available in the United States in October and globally in the first quarter of 2009. Pricing has not yet been announced, but Cumings says that compared to the cost of building 4,000 square feet of brick and mortar data center, the POD approach is "not necessarily going to be more expensive." No, that doesn't sound like a list price. You are going to have to work with HP Services and its recently acquired EYP Mission Critical Facilities unit, to figure out what the POD will cost.
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