SAN ANTONIO - Modular designs are driving significant cost savings in creating mission-critical data centers at Fidelity Investments and HP, who say their experience demonstrates that modular designs are ready to deliver high availability for enterprise workloads.
The two companies shared case studies yesterday at the 7x24 Exchange 2013 Fall Conference, which brought together more than 800 data center professionals at the JW Marriott Hill Country Resort in San Antonio.
The presentations offered the latest data points in an ongoing discussion about the cost of modular data centers, and the types of workloads they should support. Over the past year, the debate has advanced from research reports on modular economics to real-world case studies from marquee enterprise brands.
It should be noted that HP and Fidelity are motivated to evangelize the merits of modularity for the enterprise, as they are each marketing their modular designs to the data center industry. But both companies are conspicuously eating their own dog food, and says it's delicious - and significantly cheaper than traditional approaches.
Here's a look at Monday's case studies.
HP and GE
When it needed to expand a data center in Georgia supporting its internal IT, HP evaluated a range of approaches, including a traditional bricks-and-mortar facility, a hybrid design combining buildings and modules (like HP's "butterfly" design) and fully containerized modular solutions. The winning design would have to support high-density deployments and deliver high-reliability in a 2N power design.
HP went with a fully modular design using the HP 240a EcoPOD modules, paired with the new PowerMOD containerized power and cooling solution from GE Structured Solutions, a unit of GE Critical Power. The EcoPOD is a double-wide design that uses air cooling and, importantly, looks and functions like a raised-floor data hall.
"A lot of people believe modular is just for scale-out and low reliability," said Dave Rotheroe, Distinguished Technologist and Strategist for HP IT. "It's not true. Modular designs can and do apply in the enterprise. I'm using them today. Nobody seems to believe I can have an enterprise data center at a lower cost using containers."
But cost was a key driver in the decision, along with speed-to-market. Rotheroe said the modular designs offered meaningful gains in both areas.
"Our deployments are 10 to 20 percent cheaper than the traditional brick-and-mortar data center I would have built," said Rotheroe. "We think in the future, pricing will drop and it will become much, much cheaper (than traditional bricks and mortar). It won't replace everything, but it will be a major part of the market."
The EcoPOD will have about 1 megawatt of power capacity, and be able to house 44 racks of IT gear.
GE Critical Power has been deploying containerized power solutions for industrial customers for some time. With its PowerMOD solution, which it officially unveiled last week, it has productized its offering for the data center market. It features a transformerless UPS in either 500kW or 1,000kW size, as well as the ability to use free cooling to maintain the environment for the batteries.
Fidelity Investments (CenterCore)
In June we first reported on Fidelity's plans to commercialize its factory-built data center product, known as Centercore. The company is using the design to build out its own infrastructure, including portions of its data center project near Omaha, Nebraska.
On Monday, Fidelity's Eric Wells and Joe Higgins provided an overview of Centercore, and shared information about how it is refining its multi-story design in the Omaha project. The new design will allow Fidelity to deploy capacity in 1 megawatt blocks and configure the stackable modules in new ways. The result is a two-story data center with the electrical and mechanical equipment on the first floor, and the IT data halls on the second floor. The data hall has no columns or roof penetrations.
In a new wrinkle, the exterior panels are designed to be removable, making for easy expansion to add contiguous models and enlarge the data center.
Wells and Higgins said they have provided an overview of the Centercore technology to 20 of Fidelity's partners in the investment community, helping them gain a comfort level with the new design. A key benefit, they say, is that Centercore looks and feels like a traditional raised floor data center.
But the economics are very different, at least for Fidelity, which says that using Centercore instead of a traditional brick-and-mortar data center will yield big savings - saving it 48 percent on real estate costs and 23 percent on technology costs.
While HP and Fidelity are advocating for modular designs for the enterprise, they're not appropriate for all workloads.
"Modular doesn't work well with low-density workloads," said Rotheroe, who said the economics work best with power densities of 10kW per rack or above.
Some companies may also struggle with tradeoffs involved in making modular deployments more reliable, such as 2N power infrastructures, as the additional electrical equipment narrows the return on investment.
But with companies like Goldman Sachs and Lexis-Nexis also deploying modular capacity, the discussion about modular data centers in the enterprise is likely to continue.