When it introduced its Project Blackbox container, Sun Microsystems offered images of potential scenarios for the deployment of its "data center in a box," including a Blackbox on Mars or sitting at the base of a huge wind turbine. At the time, it was fair to wonder whether the data center in a shipping container was a game-changer or a niche product.
Soon Sun wasn't alone, as Rackable, Verari and Dell developed containers, and Microsoft announced it would fill a data center with them. Pretty soon 2008 began to shape up as a breakthrough year for containers. But what about IBM?
"We've spent the last two years looking at the container market and determining when we wanted to enter," said Jody Cefola, Marketing Manager for IBM's Site and Facilities Services. "We see two major uses: temporary data center capacity, and deploying compute capacity in remote locations."
The first sign of IBM's entry into the container market came on April 23, when Big Blue introduced iDataPlex, a water-cooled system offering high density in a smaller footprint. The iDataPlex half-depth servers come in racks pre-populated with servers for rapid deployment, but were also offered in a 40-foot shipping container.
On June 11 IBM unveiled its "data center family" of modular systems, including the Portable Modular Data Center (PMDC), a container product that can ship with compute capacity only, or as a self-contained data center with complete physical infrastructure including UPS, cooling systems, batteries, fire suppression and remote monitoring. IBM says the PMDCs, which will be available in late August, can be deployed anywhere in the world in 12 to 14 weeks.
Cefola said some of those customer deployments will bring data center capacity to remote locations such as mining or drilling installations. One of the early customers of the Sun MD (Blackbox) has used the data center container to support customer billing in remote parts of Russia.
But the larger market will be for enterprise customers that have run out of data center space - or power and cooling - and need additional capacity in a hurry. Cefola noted projections that 80 percent of data center operators will need to expand their facilities in the next two years.
"Nine out of 10 of our clients say they can't build a data center fast enough," said Cefola. "We see that it's a tremendous opportunity."