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Inside The Box: Container Video Tours

Last week we showcased some of the Coolest Data Center Video Tours. Today we take a look at the latest form factor to gain attention: the "data center in a box" model using shipping containers to house IT equipment. Here's a look at the leading container offerings developed by vendors and customers, including support containers and some new players featuring flexible designs.

At the 2008 Gartner Data Center Conference we got a tour of the HP POD (Performance Optimized Datacenter), which is HP's entry in the data center container market. HP's Steve Cumings walked us through the container and some of its features, including the ability to maintain the cold aisle at temperatures as high as 90 degrees, which is significantly warmer than the 68 to 72 degrees seen in traditional data centers. The POD features taller-than-usual 50U racks to separate and contain the hot and cold aisles. In this video, Cumings outlines HP's approach to the container's design, as well as the economics of containers versus traditional brick-and-mortar data centers. This video runs about 8 minutes, 30 seconds.

This video features a brief tour of ICE Cube, the high-density data center inside a shipping container from SGI (previously Rackable Systems). Conor Malone, Director of Data Center Solutions for SGI, provides a look inside the container and talks about the ICE Cube's features and how early customers are using the units. There's a lot of airflow from the cooling inside the unit, which creates some residual noise on the audio. Conor is clearly used to talking over the breeze, which helps. This video runs just over 3 minutes.

Sun Microsystems introduced the first commercial data center container when it unveiled the Blackbox in 2006. The 20-foot shipping container packed with gear was renamed the Sun MD (Modular Datacenter) S20, and has been deployed at universities, telecom companies and hospitals to provide expansion computing capacity and mobile data-crunching capabilities. A Sun MD S20 also houses the Internet Archive. In this video, Sun's Dave Douglas provides a walk-through of the container.

Australian infrastructure company Datapod has developed a system of modular container components that allow companies to quickly deploy data centers to fit their available space and power. Datapod recently announced a partnership with APC by Schneider that will offer clients the ability to integrate Datapods with APC’s InfraStruXure data center architecture. The containers range up to a 20-foot shipping container, and can include both all-in-one containers with both IT and infrastructure equipment, or specialized modules which can include “entrypods” that serve as access control man-trap systems or “utilitypods” holding generators and fuel tanks. This video, which includes a demonstration of a Datapod's assembly, runs about 4 minutes.

Microsoft announced plans in 2008 to park more than 150 shipping containers filled with servers in its huge new Chicago data center. Microsoft Director of Data Center Research Daniel Costello provided a detailed look at Microsoft's plans for its CBlox data center containers during the GigaOm Structure 08 conference in San Francisco. Here's a video of Daniel's presentation, in two parts. This first segment runs about 9 minutes and 30 seconds. You can find Part 2 here.

Microsoft unveiled the next generation of its data center container at its Windows Professional Developers Conference in late 2009, and it includes significant design advances over the existing containers deployed in Microsoft's Chicago data center.
The Generation 4 container on display at PDC looks to be completely optimized for outdoor use, with a design that relies upon fresh air ("free cooling") rather than air conditioning. It features louvers on the exterior of the container to draw fresh air into the cold aisle and expel hot air from the rear of the hot aisle. Ambient air is drawn over a membrane onto which a small amount of water is released. Here's a look at a video of the container shot by a PDC attendee:

While most of the data center containers are designed to house servers and storage, these enclosures still require electrical and mechanical infrastructure. Flywheel vendor Active Power (ACPW) has developed a support container housing a diesel generator, flywheel UPS and switchgear. The company is working closely with HP on data center expansion projects combining the HP POD container with its PowerHouse. In this demo from last year's HP Technology Forum in Las Vegas, Active Power's Martin Olsen provides a tour of the PowerHouse. This video runs about 7 minutes.

One of the interesting potential applications for mobile data centers is disaster response: the ability to quickly deploy computing and communications infrastructure to assist local officials and relief workers in major disasters. It turns out that Cisco (CSCO) developed several mobile data centers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, one of which saw action during the Southern California wildfires in 2007. In this video, Cisco's Bob Browning provides a tour of Cisco's Network Emergency Response Vehicle (NERV) and talks about how the NERV was used in the Harris Fire.

It is perhaps a sign of the times that the dominant features of the expo floor at the recent Gartner Data Center Conference were not the ostentatious vendor booths, but three 40-foot data center containers framing the show space. It was a showdown in Las Vegas as the containers from IBM, HP and SGI were all on display at Caesar's Palace. This two-minute video sets the scene and offers a brief look inside the IBM container, which is designed for flexibility, with the ability to accommodate multiple configurations of IT, electrical and mechanical infrastructure. Interesting features: The racks are placed on rails on the floor of the container so you can slide them forward to do maintenance behind the racks. This model also has an open ceiling in a portion of the container designed for chillers or generators.

For additional video, check out our DCK video archive and the Data Center Videos channel on YouTube.