Google, Microsoft spark interest in modular data centers

Experts question energy efficiency claims

Beware vendor lock-in

Before purchasing a containerized data center, enterprises should consider several issues related to their manageability and usefulness. Vendors often want you to fill the containers with only their servers, Kumar notes. Besides limiting flexibility at the time of purchase, this raises the question of what happens when those servers reach end-of-life. Will you need the vendor to rip out the servers and put new ones in, once again limiting your choice of technology?

"At the moment, most vendors will fill their containers only with their servers," Kumar says.

IBM, however, says it uses industry-standard racks in its portable data center, allowing customers to buy whatever technology they like. DeFanti said Sun's Modular Data Center allows him the flexibility to buy a heterogeneous mix of servers and storage. Rackable, though, steers customers toward either its own servers or IBM BladeCenter machines through a partnership with IBM.

"I think vendors are learning that people want more flexibility," DeFanti says.

Another consideration is failover capabilities, says Lee Kirby, who provides site assessments, data center designs and other services as the general manager of Lee Technologies. If one container goes down, its work must be transferred to another. Server virtualization will help provide this failover capability, and also make it easier to manage distributed containerized data centers -- an important consideration for customers who want to distribute computing power and have it reside as close to users as possible, Kirby says.

"I think it is key that the combination of virtualization and distributed infrastructure produce a container that can be out of service without impacting the application as a whole," Kirby says.

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