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Active Power, HP Team on Powered Containers

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HP will begin offering containerized power and cooling infrastructure from Active Power, Inc. (ACPW) with its POD data center container, giving customers the ability to rapidly expand both their computing and power capacity, the companies said today.

HP’s Performance Optimized Datacenter (POD) packs up to 3,500 processors into a 40-foot shipping container, offering the computing equivalent of about 4,000 feet of data center space. Active Power’s PowerHouse packages the company’s flywheel UPS system with a backup generator, chiller and switchgear in a 40-foot container.

“The combination of Active Power’s PowerHouse solution and the HP POD enables customers to add data center capacity as they need it, and deploy much faster than with traditional brick-and-mortar construction,” said Steve Cumings, director of Infrastructure for HP’s Scalable Computing and Infrastructure Group.

Companies running short of data center capacity are considering these “data center in a box” products as a way to expand their IT operations until they can build or lease new data centers. The credit crunch has intensified the focus on short-term capacity solutions.

“Organizations are expressing more and more interest in highly flexible and energy efficient turnkey IT solutions due to the extended time and high costs required to build or even update and expand existing data centers,” said Nik Simpson, senior analyst, Data Center Strategies, Burton Group. “Customers want OEMs and infrastructure providers who can help them rapidly expand data center capacity in support of IT and business growth, but also balance capital expenditures and operating expenses.”

Active Power specializes in uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems using flywheels. A flywheel is a spinning cylinder that generates power from kinetic energy, continuing to spin when grid power is interrupted. See our video demonstration of how a flywheel works).

In most data centers, the UPS system draws power from a large bank of batteries to provide “ride-through” electricity to keep servers online until the diesel generator can start up and begin powering the facility. One of the selling points of flywheels is that they offer a similar level of backup power in a much smaller space, which is particularly important in containerized systems, where space is at a premium.

Active Power has deployed about 18 megawatts of UPS capacity in the PowerHouse configuration to customers including European retailer Tesco PLC. The company is also working with Sun Microsystems to sell PowerHouse solutions to support Sun’s container, the Sun Modular Datacenter S20. Other vendors offering data center container solutions include Rackable (RACK), IBM and Verari Systems.

Dell hasn’t publicly announced its container product, but is building double-decker data center containers for customers, with one 40-foot container filled with servers and storage and another packed with power and cooling equipment.

The HP POD can support very dense server configurations of up to 27 kilowatts of power per rack (see our video tour of the POD for more details). Customers can choose between PODs requiring 450 kilowatts of energy, or a fully-loaded 600-kilowatt version. A standard PowerHouse will support the 450 kilowatt POD, but Active Power has versions that will accommodate the maximum POD density as well, according to Martin Olsen, director of product management for Active Power.

HP says it can deliver a POD container in as little as six weeks. Delivery time is more complicated with power equipment, as strong demand for diesel backup generators has meant lengthy delays for some larger models. The backlogs, which at one time were more than a year for a 2 megawatt generator, have eased somewhat. But supply chain issues place a premium on vendor relationships.

“For our solution, speed of deployment comes down to generator availability,” said Olsen. “Fortunately, we have strong relationships with Caterpillar and Cummins, so it’s usually not a bottleneck.”

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large 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.

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