'Container Centers' As a Facility Niche

A Virginia real estate company is developing dedicated facilities to house up to 20 "docking stations" for data center containers.

An illustration of the design of a container "docking station" from Dock IT.

An illustration of the design of a container "docking station" from Dock IT.

Are "container centers" a real estate niche with a future? As server-filled shipping containers gain traction, several providers of wholesale data center and colocation space have begun housing data center containers for customers. A Virginia company is going one step further and developing dedicated facilities for containers.

Dock IT of Reston is adopting a multi-tenant approach to the container-focused design  implemented by Microsoft in its new Chicago data center, albeit on a smaller scale. Just as data centers are designed around the requirements of IT racks filled with servers, Dock IT's "docking stations" are built to capture the economic benefits of container-based computing.

First Facility in Virginia
Dock IT was formed by the husband-wife team of CEO Eliza Wojtaszek and COO Frank Piatkowski. Wojtaszek's background is in engineering, while Piatkowski's focus is real estate. The company's first docking station is at a business park in Gainesville, Virginia, about 35 miles south of Washington. Dock IT has six docking bays ready for tenants, and plans to build out another 20 bays at the Gainesville Commerce Center site.

The docking station is designed to support two to three containers for each customer, including one container filled with IT equipment, a second container for power infrastructure, and space for a third container housing chillers.

The Gainesville building features the IT container on the lower floor of the front section of the facility, with a 900 square foot office on an enclosed mezzanine. A power container can be housed in the rear section, while chiller containers would be housed on the roof. Future docking stations will likely feature both support containers in a rear section of the facility that has walls but no roof.    

Working with HP, Active Power
 Dock IT is still seeking its first tenant, but Piatkowski said the concept has sparked interest among a range of inquirers, including financial firms and video-on-demand services.  The company is working with IT container vendors (including HP) as well as Active Power, which makes the PowerHouse container to house power and cooling gear.

Piatkowski outlined the docking station concept last week at Data Center World in a joint presentation with Active Power (ACPW). Piatwkowski said hosting containers with Dock IT  offers better use of power on a per-kilowatt basis than colocation or wholesale data center space. He said the model probably works best for companies with 350 to 400 kilowatts of IT load per container.

Dock IT isn't the first provider to offer turn-key housing for data center containers. CoreSite has customized container hosuing solutions for HP POD and Verari containers, while i/o Data Centers and Digital Realty Trust also house containers in their facilties.

Dock IT says it prefers that customers own the containers, but may work with partners to lease them on customers behalf as well. Some vendors' container offerings include an infrastructure container with IT, and some may have a separate chiller container.

Piatkowski says data center containers represent "fairly small-sized bites" in IT operating budgets. "Nobody in the data center industry wants to think long term right now," he said of the investment climate. "When you have IT in a container, you can change it out as technologies change."

Network of Sites Envisioned
Piatkowski says Dock IT is scouting other locations around the U.S., and envisions a national network of docking facilities, each of which would feature 20 containers and require about 10 megawatts of power.

"Our business plan is that you'll want more than one location, so we're shopping for additional sites," he said.

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