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  • Data Center Map

    Data Center Containers


    By Sune Christesen on June 15, 2009

    As a follow up to the recent post about containers in a colocation environment, I thought it would be interesting with a follow up post. So in this post I will be comparing the current offerings available when it comes to container based data centers, as they do differ a lot compared to each other.
    This comparison is not with “colocation” eyes, but more from a general data center perspective, so whether you are looking for containers for colocation, modular/scalable designs or high density setups then this should be of interest.

    Sun Modular Datacenter (MD)

    Form factor: 20 feet container
    Compatibility: Standard 19″ servers
    Rack capacity: 7 or 8 40U racks depending on model
    Cooling capacity: 25 kW per rack
    Special features: Designed to protect equipment from earth quakes
    PUE: Unknown
    Link: Product page

    Sun was the first provider to make a huge push for containers with the launch of their Modular Datacenter (originally called project Blackbox) followed by a world tour and a lot of marketing effort. The container is available in two models, MD S20 with 8 78cm deep racks and MD D20 with four 78cm deep racks and three 115cm deep racks. The container has a central service aisle and racks on both sides, that can be pulled out in to the aisle while still in operation, which are configured front-to-rear with a heat exchanger between each rack. The Sun MD is certified as tier-2.


    Pictures: Sun & Chris Josephes – for more see SLAC or Data Center Links.
    Videos: Earth Quake test, Inside, Tour #1 & Tour #2.

    SGI ICE Cube

    Form factor: 20 or 40 feet container
    Compatibility: SGI half-depth 19″ servers
    Rack capacity: 12, 24 or 28 55U racks depending on model
    Cooling capacity: 1500W per square feet
    Special features: Built in UPS
    PUE: <1.2
    Link: Product page

    Originally launched as Rackable Concentro, SGI’s ICE Cube (Integrated Concentro Environment) has been designed to fit SGI’s half-depth servers in either a 20 or 40 feet container. The server racks are mounted in both sides with a central service aisle, with the servers facing the aisle and thereby only being accessible from the front. Cooling is done via heat exchangers on the side of the cabinets blowing air out in front of the servers.


    Pictures: SGI/Rackable.
    Video: Product Video & Tour.

    Verari FOREST

    Form factor: 40 feet container
    Compatibility: Standard 19″ servers
    Rack capacity: Unknown, but more than 2880 servers
    Cooling capacity: Power capacity of 350 kW
    Special features: Built in UPS
    PUE: 1.3
    Link: Product page

    The name FOREST comes from the keywords Flexible, Open, Reliable, Energy efficient, Scalable and Transportable that Verari have chosen for their product. Unfortunately there isn’t too much material available about the FOREST container, but from the pictures it seems to be a design with standard racks placed in each side the can be accessed from the front and the back via a central service aisle.


    Pictures: FOREST.
    Video: Presentation.

    Lampertz Outdoor Room

    Form factor: 20 feet container (40 feet custom solutions also available)
    Compatibility: Standard 19″ equipment
    Rack capacity: 7 47U racks
    Cooling capacity: Up to 4.3 kW per rack with standard solutions
    Special features: Standard 19″ cabinets from can be used, can be delivered with free cooling
    PUE: Unknown
    Link: Product page

    The Lampertz Outdoor Room is based on a 20 feet container and unlike most of the other offerings, it has been designed to function more as a traditional server room inside a container. That means that it can be fitted out with standard 19″ cabinets from any vendor (of course with some restrictions in size) that is cooled via a raised floor. The container can be delivered with direct free cooling integrated, and Lampertz can also do 40 feet solutions and setups with multiple containers linked together.


    Pictures: Lampertz.

    IBM Portable Modular Data Center (PMDC)
    AST Smart Shelter Container (SSC)

    Form factor: 20 or 40 feet container
    Compatibility: Standard 19″ equipment
    Rack capacity: 17 racks in the 40 feet model / 8 racks in the 20 feet model
    Cooling capacity: Depending on configuration
    Special features: Standard 19″ cabinets from any vendor can be used
    PUE: Depending on configuration, IBM says average 1.3
    Link: IBM Press release / AST Modular

    Manufactured by AST Modular, and sold both by IBM as PMDC and by AST as SSC. The container can be delivered as a complete solution with all the necessary infrastructure, or as a barebone solution that can be outfitted with cabinets and cooling equipment from any vendor (for example in-row or top cooling units). The container can be accessed from the side or from the end and features a cold and a hot aisle with the cabinets in the middle. The cabinets are mounted on a sliding system, making it possible to slide them around while in operation so that they can be accessed from both the front and the rear.


    Pictures: IBM & Sune Christesen.
    Video: IBM Presentation, AST Presentation & IBM tour.

    HP Performance Optimized Datacenter (POD)

    Form factor: 20 or 40 feet container
    Compatibility: Standard 19″ equipment
    Rack capacity: 22 50U racks
    Cooling capacity: 27 kW per rack
    Special features: Very short delivery time and high cooling capacity
    PUE: Unknown
    Link: Product page

    HP’s POD containers have one long row of racks facing a service aisle where the front of the racks can be accessed, while you have to go outside the container to access the rear side of the racks via dedicated doors on one side of the container. The cooling is done via overhead heat exchangers that can be serviced individually and cool up to 27 kW per rack. HP guarantees that they can deliver PODs within 6 weeks from order.


    Pictures: HP & GigaOM.
    Video: Product video, Tour #1, Tour #2, Tour #3.

    Dell Humidor

    Form factor: 2 40 feet containers stacked
    Compatibility: Standard 19″ equipment
    Rack capacity: 24 racks
    Cooling capacity: Unknown
    Special features: Dedicated container for infrastructure
    PUE: Unknown
    Link: New York Times article / The Register article

    Dell’s approach to the container business is quite different compared to the other vendors, as they have chosen to make their solution consist of two containers stacked on top of each other. The container below is outfitted with a row of 24 racks in the middle, while the container above is outfitted with infrastructure for cooling and power. Unlike a lot of the other containers that are designed with custom cooling systems matching their compact size, Dell has chosen to use standard equipment in the infrastructure container. A choice that consumes more space, but gives more flexibility. Unfortunately there does not seem to be any information from Dell about Humidor except for articles in the press, but apparently that is because Dell is not expecting this product to be a mainstream product but just a product for a few select customers.


    Pictures: The Register & The New York Times.

    APC Datapod

    Form factor: Multiple modules available
    Compatibility: Standard 19″ equipment
    Rack capacity: Depending on configuration
    Cooling capacity: Unknown
    Special features: Can be build together with other container modules
    PUE: Unknown
    Link: Datapod website

    Datapod has partnered up with APC to offer their container solution, which is a bit different compared to the other containers available as the solution is more oriented on the modular approach. Different containerized modules are available and can be build together as one data center, and later on additional units can be installed to expand the capacity.


    Pictures: iTnews.
    Video: Datapod presentation

    Bull Mobull

    Form factor: 20- and 40 feet containers
    Compatibility: Standard 19″ equipment
    Rack capacity: 6 racks in 20-feet model & 15 racks in 40-feet model
    Cooling capacity: 40 kW per rack
    Special features: Very high cooling capacity due to water cooled doors.
    PUE: Unknown
    Link: Bull website

    Bull has created a container with cooling based on their water-cooled doors, which ensures a very high cooling capacity compared to the other containers available. Unfortunately there are very few ressources available about their container, but apparently racks are accessed via maintenance aisles that are accessed from the side of the container. Like HP Bull also promises a short delivery time on the Mobull, promising that it is delivered and operational within 8 weeks. The container can both be leased and purchased.


    Pictures: Bull.

    Emerson Data Center Infrastructure

    Form factor: 40 feet container
    Compatibility: Standard 19″ equipment
    Rack capacity: Unknown
    Cooling capacity: Unknown
    Special features: ?
    PUE: Unknown
    Link: Product website

    The Data Center Infrastructure container from Emerson Network Power is equipped with equipment from Emersons various data center subsidiaries, such as racks from Knürr and cooling from Liebert. Unfortunately there is not much technical information available about the product, but the website features various videos and pictures that shows a similar design to the ATS/IBM container (a central row of racks, that can slide from side to side).


    Pictures: Emerson.

    Automation SAFE

    Form factor: Multiple configurations available
    Compatibility: Standard 19″ equipment
    Rack capacity: 4-12 cabinets
    Cooling capacity: Up to 20 kW per cabinet (90 kW in total)
    Special features: 6 weeks delivery time
    PUE: Below 1.35 guaranteed
    Link: Product website

    The SAFE (Secure, Autonomous, Flexible, Efficient) container from the European manufacturer Automation, comes in various configurations that vary in size, power capacity, rack space. Ranging from 16 kW IT load up to 90 kW, with rack density from 10 to 20 kW, and 4 to 12 server racks giving a total of 126 to 624 rack units. Unfortunately very few pictures are available, but there are some PDF presentations on Automations website with facts and model comparisons.


    Pictures: Automation.

    ActivePower PowerHouse

    Link: Product page

    The PowerHouse from ActivePower is not a container-based data center like the others, but it is still an interesting product that relates to the subject so I have included it anyway. The PowerHouse is a different angle of using containers in relation to data centers, as it is a container that can be outfitted with the necessary infrastructure (UPS, chiller, generator etc.) to run a container-based data center or just a regular brick and mortar data center for that matter. Both HP and Sun can provide their containers combined with a PowerHouse.


    Picture: ActivePower.
    Video: Tour

    Summing up

    As one can see from the pictures as well as the facts, there is a lot of difference between the various models. Of course they don’t necessarily cover the same needs, but as discussed in the last post about containers some kind of standardization is probably required on some areas for containers to really break through (door locations, cable/water entry points, included infrastructure etc.).

    I will try to keep the post up to date, so feel free to contact me if there are any additions or corrections.



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