IBM Launches Modular Data Centers, Containers

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IBM is jumping into the “data center in a box” game with both feet, rolling out a suite of modular and container-based systems designed to help companies to rapidly expand and extend their data center capacity. The announcement of the new line of data centers is part of Project Big Green, IBM’s commitment to invest $1 billion a year in technologies to improve the energy efficiency of its in-house and customer facilities.

IBM’s new products standardize data center design for several modular “form factors,” including a 5,000-square-foot module for enterprise customers, data center container products in both 20-foot and 40-foot shipping containers, and a 200-square-foot module that allows users to quickly create a high-density zone within a low-density data center.

These modular data centers are designed to make it cheaper and quicker for customers to expand their data center space, saving money through energy efficient equipment and a “repeatable” design.

“It’s very clear that data center design and build has to change dramatically,” said Steve Sams of IBM Global Technology. “We have to change the model that’s been used over the last 20 years to really design in scalability.”

“At IBM we have built more data centers for our clients than anyone else in the world,” said Brian Canney, IBM Global Services Executive for Site and Facilities Services. “IBM has designed and customized more than 30 million square feet of data center space, and we’re starting to modularize this approach.”


Here’s an overview of the three new modular data center products announced today by IBM:

Enterprise Modular Data Center (EMDC): This enterprise class data center comes “shrink-wrapped” and standardized to 5,000 square feet modules, which can be combined to create as much as 20,000 square feet of new data center space. IBM says the standardized approach lets clients bring new data centers online three to six months sooner than a custom designed version. The modular approach allows customers to phase in their expansion as their capital and computing needs dictate. Each EMDC can support power densities ranging from 100 watts to 300 watts per square foot, and includes power and mechanical infrastructure.

The Portable Modular Data Center (PMDC) (see photo here) is IBM’s container product, with complete physical infrastructure including UPS, cooling systems, batteries, fire suppression and remote monitoring. The PMDC can be shipped and dropped into any environment, and supports an open architecture and equipment from multiple vendors. Canney says the PMDCs can be deployed anywhere in the world in 12 to 14 weeks. “We’re finding clients are requiring data centers in remote areas,” he said. “We’re also finding clients that want to expand data centers that are landlocked. We can also stack units to save on floor space.” Canney said the IBM data center containers are designed to Tier III reliability. One unit has been installed at a customer site in Denmark, said Canney, who said IBM also has a demo unit in Barcelona that uses two 20-foot containers – one filled with IT equipment, another with the power infrastructure.

IBM’s Modular High Density Zone (MHDZ) is a 200-square-foot modular system combining power and cooling with high-density servers to enable existing data centers to deploy new technology without disrupting current operations. The MHDZ can be deployed in two to three months, providing up to 35 percent cost savings compared to building the same capability in a new data center. “This is a cooling focused solution that can quickly convert part of an existing data center into a high density solution zone,” said Canney. The MHDZ is designed to operate within an open floor plan, but can also be isolated from the lower-density environment to improve efficiency.

These designs join the Modular Scalable Data Center, an existing product designed to provide a quick modular installation of 500 to 2,500 square feet of data center space.

IBM also announced that IBM Global Financing is offering a customized financial package to fund customer projects to install energy efficient IT services and infrastructure. IBM says it financing can preserve client cash flow for the entire scope of a client’s green data center project: including hardware, software, services and maintenance with a single, comprehensive package.

In the year since IBM launched its Big Green initiative, IBM has worked with more than 2,000 clients on hardware, software and services technologies to reduce their data center energy consumption and cut energy costs.

“Response from businesses, governments and educational institutions to the first phase of IBM’s Project Big Green has been overwhelming” said Mike Daniels, senior vice-president and group executive, IBM Global Technology Services. “In just one year, we’ve designed and built thousands of energy efficient data centers for our clients around the world. In the second phase of Big Green, we’re unveiling some of our most advanced green technologies and services. IBM energy efficiency teams are ready to go anywhere in the world to help clients address their data center energy bills of today and design the data center they need to compete tomorrow in this global economy.”

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.