HP Sees Enterprise Momentum for POD Modules

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A look inside one of HP's latest designs for its Performance Optimized Datacenter (POD). Airbus just deployed two PODs for a supercomputing cluster in Europe.

Enterprises are getting comfortable with containers and modular data centers, which is boosting demand for HP’s Portable Optimized Datacenter (POD) offerings, the company said today. HP is also investing to expand its production capacity for its modular units, including PODWorks facilities in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

To illustrate the growth of its POD business, HP today identified customers who have recently expanded their IT operations, including UCLA, Skoda Power, the Australian government and the city of El Paso, Texas.

These customers are representative of a gradual shift in which the user base for containers and modular data centers has expanded beyond its origins in the “hyper-scale” computing community.

“It’s evolved into a very nice business,” said Jon Mormile, HP’s Worldwide Product Marketing Manager for Performance-Optimized Data Centers. “The conversations have really shifted from ‘is this a solution that’s viable?’ to ‘it’s viable, but how can we deploy this?’”

HP entered the container business in 2008, when the leading players in the market were Sun Microsystems, Verari and Rackable. The market has many more players now, and HP’s POD business has evolved along with it.

Moving Beyond A Niche Play

Running servers in shipping containers was initially viewed as a niche play by many in the data center industry, limited to mobile requirements, temporary capacity, or novel designs like the cloud computing facilities being built by Microsoft and Google. Analysts and industry watchers have debated whether the efficiencies of modular data centers would be embraced by enterprise users, who are sometimes slow to adopt new technology.

Mormile says that began to change last year as designs evolved and HP and other modular vendors continued to evangelize the merits of pre-fabricated construction.

“In early 2010, we started to see a nice shift to enterprise customers,” he said. “We believe the enterprise ice market was listening, but being cautious. What we saw was a shift from enterprises kicking the tires to placing orders.”

HP’s offerings reflect the growing variety of modular options. The company offers both water-cooled and air-cooled PODs, and the newest version – the HP POD 240a, or EcoPOD – a highly-efficient design that uses outside air (free cooling) and features a “double-wide” design that joins two 40-foot containers to create a hot aisle/cold aisle design. The result is a modular design that looks and feels much like a traditional data center.

HP has released details of several recent POD installations:

  • The City and County of El Paso, Texas chose an 40-foot HP POD housing HP blade servers and storage as the primary data center to support IT operations for its police, judicial system and administration. El Paso says its POD deployment resulted in taxpayer savings of nearly $6 million by eliminating service duplication and consolidating IT departments. The deployment helped El Paso “deliver modern and redundant data center facilities that benefit the taxpayer at large through better public service delivery,” said David Garcia, director, Information Technology and Project Oversight.
  • Skoda Power, a power plant equipment maker in the Czech Republic, recently deployed a 40-foot HP POD to help consolidate its IT operations after the company was acquired by Doosan. The water-cooled HP POD consumes up to 40 percent less power than alternative solutions, decreasing operating expenses and delivering increased power capacity.
  • Australian research firm iVEC deployed an HP POD 20c to support a new supercomputer system as part of the Australian government’s $1.1 billion Super Science Initiative. The 20-foot module will help fuel research in the radio astronomy, nanoscience, geoscience and other leading computational communities. “In order to service our community effectively, we needed a facility that could deliver massive scale-up capabilities” said Andrew Rohl, executive director, iVEC. “HP’s POD technology will enable Australian research organizations to compete on the global stage as we further development of codes, techniques and best practices to significantly increase our compute capacity.”
  • UCLA used a POD to extend its virtual HPC cluster to house 1,500 compute nodes – the equivalent of 5,000 square feet. As a result, the university is currently saving nearly $198,000 per year in power costs.

How big is the market? HP isn’t disclosing its sales, but noted a projection by IDC analyst Michelle Bailey that modular deployments will rise from 144 units this year to about 220 units in 2012.

“Our unit volume has increased steadily over the past couple of years,” said Mormile. “We’ve got customers who have ordered five EcoPODs, and others who are considering orders for tens of containers.”

That has prompted HP to ramp up its production capabilities. The company has added three more bays to its PODWorks facility in Houston, where its modular units are assembled and commissioned.

“We had a tremendous amount of demand, and wanted to ensure availability of these units,” said Mormile. “We’ve also had to upgrade facilities in EMEA and recently began one in APJ. It has required a substantial investment by HP.”

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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One Comment

  1. Sam

    IBM came up with this concept in conjunction with the US military, the Scalable Modular Data Center.