A little more on HP's 20 foot container

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HP logoLast week HP announced a new 20 foot long addition to their containerized computing solution. The new mini model complements the original 40 footer. The other John wrote about the announcement here; I talked to HP before the release, and learned a couple things that I wanted to add in to the discussion.

First, the new size seems to be all about portability. In talking with HP’s Jean Brandau (POD product marketing manager, HP Scalable Computing and Infrastructure organization), it seems that potential customers were steered away from the 40 foot big brother by the need to get their mobile datacenters over unfriendly terrain, especially in oil/gas and military applications. HP's 20 foot podThe shorty weighs in a 50,000 pounds empty, half of the 100,000 pound empty weight of its big brother. That difference evidently matters if you are talking about rural and unimproved transport of one of these things.

Another benefit of the shorter form factor is that customers can now put both a POD and a mobile generator onto a single 40-foot long truck and haul the whole shooting match at one time — if you aren’t roughing it. Also, apparently some customers just have smaller needs. The new model lets users stock up to 10 50U racks, and represents a more efficient use of funds than the 22 racks of the full-length trailer if you don’t need all that space.

One of the things that I’m curious about with respect to these containers is who is buying them, and why (given what we know about the answer to the first question) do IT companies keep investing in selling them?

Rackable told the world that the market was “slow” at the end of 2008, and at one point there were four of Sun’s Modular Datacenters in the field that we knew of (two at the same place). Brandau wouldn’t give me hard numbers on how many HP has fielded, but she would say that sales are in double digits. When I asked her to bracket it — closer to 10 or closer to 70 — she would only say that it’s less than 70. But she did have something interesting to say about why this might be.

I’ve always thought about these things in the context of a routine IT refresh: instead of putting the servers in the datacenter, you just put them in the parking lot during your next routine buy. She pointed out that it’s probably more accurate to think about containers in the context of new datacenter builds, which happen much less frequently. Evidently people are both planning to build datacenters in which these things would be stacked, or planning to not build a datacenter and deploy these instead. Since the number of new datacenter starts each year is small, she says HP isn’t surprised by the slow start on this market.

The new 20 foot container is capable of 290kW max (145 kW if you need redundant power to your servers), and delivers 3-phase to the PDUs, then 240 volt power to the racks. Your $600,000 investment gets you an IT-free POD, and they all come configured for the max power and cooling no matter what the actual needs of the IT you initially configure it with.