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May 4, 2011

Cisco Lifts Lid on Containers

Nicole Hemsoth

There has been plenty of discussion about the concept of containerized datacenters, but use cases to back the idea that they might swell in popularity are few in number. Still, Cisco announced that it would throw its hat into the portable datacenter market with the launch of their CDC offering this week.

Containerized datacenters occupy a micro-niche in the overall datacenter marketplace, with IDC estimates predicting shipment of a mere 144 of them throughout the entire course of 2011.

Michelle Bailey, datacenter expert at IDC says, however, that there is a chance that this number could double in 2012. Even still, this represents only a miniscule slice of the overall datacenter market. A recent Uptime Institute survey deems this high expectation to be rather optimistic, noting that in their survey of datacenter operators, a mere 5 percent said they planned to consider containers.  

With such a small pool of interested parties, one might ask why major hardware vendors would bother with offering these products at all. The answer, says Bailey, has little to do with the containers themselves, but the hardware that packs them — servers, storage and networking gear — all of which Cisco hopes to provide via their own line and those of their partners (EMC, VMware, NetApp).

Cisco’s containerized datacenters are based on “a 40 x 9.5 x 8-foot weatherized ISO container that provides up to 16 racks, with up to 25 kW of power per rack. The containers can be stacked two-high or placed side by side. Inside, the racks are cooled with chilled water and feature a low PUE of 1.25.”

IDC’s Bailey also noted that there are some differences between Cisco’s CDC and other offerings, noting that there is more emphasis on manageability due to the granular rack-level cooling. Bailey also points to a number of security and maintenance features, including network and power supply deliver from under the container versus on the side as well caster-mounted racks for mobility.

Many in the containerized datacenter market aren’t necessarily eyeing enterprise environments for their core customer base. These units are typically deployed for relatively short term needs or when mobility and security are high priorities. For these reasons they have the most traction for military applications, according to Bailey. Still, some companies, including Cisco, might be able to reel some business users in with their focus on manageability and security.

Even though they haven’t achieved critical mass, the few use cases there are seem to favor these for short-term use. These modular set-ups can be deployed in far less time than a traditional datacenter (typically humming in 120 days from order), can be transported once they’ve been set up, and are thus useful in disaster or military situations as well as for short-term heavy-duty needs. Some of the more notable deployments include NASA’s Nebula containers and Purdue’s use of an HP POD last year to build out its HPC cluster.

Full story at TechTarget