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HP spreads wings with 'butterfly' data centers

Modules take flight

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There may be a glut in the housing market in many of the Western economies, but when it comes to data centers, there's pent-up demand for more modern facilities. So business should be booming then, right?

Wrong. As the cost of compute, storage, and networking capacity has dropped, allowing companies to – in theory – get a lot more oomph for the buck, the price of constructing and operating data centers has continued to rise. Companies that built their last big data center in the 1980s or 1990s – usually with raised floors and power densities that were tepid by comparison with the 20 to 30 kilowatts per rack that is possible with dense servers today – are jonesing for brick-and-mortar data centers with all the modern power distribution and cooling technologies. They just don't have the money to build them.

Moreover, very few companies are willing to use cheaper containerized data centers, and not just because they look trashy. The containerized data center only copes with certain kinds of servers, not all servers, and doesn't provide the other facilities – like workspace for admins and meeting rooms, as well as tough security – that normal data centers have. A containerized data center is more like a super-rack, meant to be tossed out in a few years when it is technologically worthless, than it is like a data center, meant to have a life of several decades.

HP's Critical Facilities Services division thinks it has come up with the answer, and it is one that mirrors the housing market and splits the difference between building a stick house and buying a trailer: building a house from prefabricated, modular components.

HP today started showing off something called the Flexible Data Center, based on what it calls a "butterfly design." The body of the butterfly is not the IT facility, oddly enough, but the places where people work, what HP calls the core building, designated by the product number M32:

HP Flexible Data Center 2

This part of the butterfly facility has a central core hallway, off which hang shipping and receiving centers, staff and meeting rooms, administration areas, and a network operations center – all of which has the physical and electronic security that a modern data center should have. Off this central core hangs the four wings of the butterfly, which are data centers that are 6,000 square feet in size rated at 800 kilowatts, known by the product number M8:

HP Flexible DC Butterfly

As you can see, once you build the basic butterfly data center – one core and four wings – you hang two cooling modules off the side of each M8 module and up to four power conditioning or generator modules off the top or bottom of the M8 modules (whichever side is not butted up against other M8 modules).

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