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IBM traps Captain Planet in a container

Shrink wrapped data centers all the rage

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IBM wants to save the world one modularized data center at a time.

Some folks talk about helping Mother Earth by planting trees and performing deep soil massages on their front lawns. But not server makers. They talk about greening up the world by packing as many pieces of hardware, power supplies and air conditioning units as possible in the least amount of space.

And so, IBM has unfurled its Project Big Green banner once again - this time to champion an expanded modularized data center lineup. This move builds on similar efforts from companies such as Sun Microsystems, Rackable Systems and Verari to sell chunks of data centers to customers in pre-packaged forms. IBM, however, contends that it has a broader lineup than rivals.

The "other guys" offer data centers in shipping containers. They pack the containers full of servers, storage systems and networking gear and ship them off to customer sites. The buyer then needs do little more than find some power, water and networking cables that can reach the container.

IBM too has embraced the container idea via what it's calling Portable Modular Data Centers (PMDCs). Whereas most of the competitors offer a single container option, IBM lets customers pick from three systems - a 20 foot unit, a 40 foot unit and a double-wide 40 foot unit. In addition, IBM can slot hardware from just about any vendor into the containers, according to Steve Sams, an IBM VP.

The PMDC units can also hold IBM's new iDataPlex server - a system that combines two server racks into a single cabinet for higher density and better cooling. We've discussed iDataPlex at length here and here. You can slot 1,178 of the iDataPlex units into a container or 1,428 blade systems.

IBM's Green assault also includes an expansion of its one-year old Enterprise Modular Data Center (EMDC) program. To date, IBM has built about 40 smallish EMDCs where it takes its own data center expertise and boils it down for designs that will fit more modest-sized companies. Now IBM again wants to offer more choice by creating EMDCs that range in size from 5,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet.

As Sams explains it, IBM breaks the EMDCs into 5,000 square foot chunks that have their own power and cooling systems. Customers can then upgrade from that original design as needed to bring on more data center gear.

IBM reckons this helps out folks who don't want to pay up front for capacity they're not sure they'll need. In addition, IBM uses its data center expertise to make sure the designs are energy efficient and, frankly, better than what the customer could design on its own.

IBM is also hawking another modular system called the High Density Zone (HDZ) which provides a cooling and power boost to existing data centers pushed near their limits.

"Existing perimeter CRAC cooling can support up to approximately 2kW - 3kW per rack of heat load," IBM said. "This is not nearly enough cooling capacity for the high density computing environments being installed today which can run as high as 30kW per rack. Instead of building a new data center to support the high density loads, IBM's High Density Zone can be installed on the existing raised floor, creating a high density zone, to easily support high density computing loads.

"IBM’s High Density Zone solution leverages best practices in data center design with hot aisle/cold aisle configuration and close coupled cooling techniques for very high cooling capacities and improved energy efficiency in a modular design. A typical 400 sq. ft. installation can support 10 IT racks with a power density of 12kw or 25kW per rack (other zone sizes and/or power densities can be custom designed by IBM)."

There's more about this modular wonderland here.

The prices on these systems will vary quite a bit depending on the configurations you choose.

But IBM said the PMDC containers start at about $400,000 for the 20 foot unit with power, cooling and racks included. You'll need to buy your own servers, storage and networking hardware.

The EMDCs run about $7m to $15m for a 5,000 square foot design.

Meanwhile, the High Density Zone starts at $42,000 to cool 25,000 watts per rack.

While it's difficult to compare IBM's designs with similar products from rivals, you have to be impressed with the scope of its modular embrace. Big Blue has hopped right aboard the containerized data center bandwagon and started steering the thing. ®

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