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Hewlett-Packard has finally found its way into the data center trailer park.

It took a while, but the hardware vendor is introducing its own scheme for selling chunks of data centers in pre-packaged containers. HP joins the likes of Sun, IBM, Rackable, and Verari with similar White Trash Data Center programs.

HP calls its offering a "Performance Optimized Data Center" or POD. HP joins IBM by providing the option of filling containers not just with the vendor's own kit, but also a wide variety of third-party metal.

"We engineered our PODs to be the most flexible infrastructure in the industry," said Paul Miller, HP's marketing chief of enterprise gear. "If it can fit into a 19-inch rack, we can pretty much fit it into our POD."

Miller said customers are all about standardized hardware in the container arena. For example, the standards approach lets customers start with half a POD and then move their existing equipment into the container when they need the extra space.

Most other vendors have chosen a ground-up approach for the job — fitting their containers with specialized gear made for life in a 40-foot unit. HP, however, doesn't have new hardware for its container. But at least it's managed to cram a lot of what it currently has in there.

HP claims the shipping containers will support more than 3,500 compute nodes, or 12,000 large form factor hard drives. The company estimates that's equivalent to 4,000-plus square feet of typical data center capacity. It also promises shipment within six weeks of the customer's order.

"We're able to get greater density than people who took the ground-up approach," said Miller.

Container experts, however, will tell you that there's merit to the custom designs. Rackable, for example, appears able to squeeze the most hardware into its ICE Cube systems, which also pay special attention to power and cooling. In addition, the early container players are already crafting second and third generation designs, while HP is just now entering the market with what can be considered a fairly generic approach.

In any case, HP's industry-standard approach would seem to leave it out of the bidding for Microsoft's massive container project in Chicago. Microsoft looks set to buy more than 200 containers from a vendor that's able to meet a very demanding set of requirements. Whoever scores this deal will need to deliver bespoke it.

PODs are built to order through HP Factory Express. HP expects to have the fleet ready for US customers in October, and worldwide by the first quarter of 2009.

A video tour of an HP container is available here. Whoops, we mean here. ®

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