Datacentre war

Last year, Sun released its much-hyped Blackbox mobile datacentre, and HP has now countered with its POD. Imthishan Giado takes a first look at what this formerly niche market has to offer.

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By  Imthishan Giado Published  September 14, 2008

Last year, Sun released its much-hyped Blackbox mobile datacentre, and HP has now countered with its POD. Imthishan Giado takes a first look at what this formerly niche market has to offer.

Datacentres aren't typically the most exciting products, at least visually. Rows upon rows of neatly stacked servers in a tightly-temperature-controlled room tend to be the equivalent of a visual valium and the people who sell or discuss them aren't normally a barrel of laughs either.

So Sun dropped the equivalent of an atomic bomb last year into the staid datacentre market when it unveiled the Blackbox. Essentially a datacentre housed inside a 20 foot shipping container, it could be loaded on a track and taken anywhere a tractor trailer could venture to rapidly boost computing power.

Competition is always healthy and the market will be open to another datacentre in a box. Sun has been an early adopter of niche technologies – we might have come with the Blackbox a bit too early for the market.

Much like a fullsize datacentre, it came equipped with all necessary amenities including power and cooling and external connections for networking and air-conditioning.

The Blackbox could also be airlifted to global hotspots - certainly a unique selling point. Sun Microsystems claims that customers from countries as diverse as Japan, Russia and Belgium have bought the system, not mention interest from academia like the Stanford University, which bought two to augment its aging datacentre without building a new facility.

Now arch-rival HP has weighed into this niche market with its own super-sized version, called the Performance-Optimised Datacentre or "POD". The firm claims the POD can house up to 3,500 computing nodes and 12,000 hard drives, providing the equivalent of 4000 square feet of datacentre space.

The POD is also double the size of Sun's effort at 40 feet. Jérôme Riboulon, HP sales manager for power and cooling solutions in Europe, Middle East and Africa, provides several reasons why customers might want to opt for a solution like the POD.

"Around the world, datacentre owners are facing constraints linked to growth. We have a lot of power and cooling demands. Most of the datacentres are not equipped or designed to accept that growth, so we've got a lot of customers facing the physical limit of their facility," he says.

Ribouon continues: "According to Gartner, 50% of datacentres at a worldwide-level will have to review their power and cooling resources within the next three to five years because they are facing those physical limits. Finally, energy is becoming more and more expensive globally so customers are looking for energy efficiency to drive energy costs down and making sure they become more efficient."

Riboulon presents a typical scenario in which deploying the POD would make sense: "Let's take the subprime issue. With all the mortgages, all the banks, acquired a lot of IT systems because they have to run all those IT queries to understand what's going on with the subprime side."

"This is a type of situation where companies require a large amount of IT extremely quickly. The issue you have with that is if you want to design a datacentre, it takes you roughly between 12 months to two to three years. This type of deployment is not as fast as the business wants - so you need to have a faster way to meet demand. The last aspect is also linked to capital expense. It can be quite expensive to build a new infrastructure and datacentre, so some customers look for cheaper deployments," he adds.

That something may well be Sun's Blackbox - now known as the Modular Datacentre S20 - which has a year's headstart on the HP equivalent. However, Riboulon remains sceptical and points out why it isn't the default choice.

"Let me give you just one example. You cannot put 7000 HP blade system enclosures into the Blackbox. If you take the HP POD, you can put Dell, IBM and Sun systems in it as long as they follow industry standards. You give a lot more flexibility to the client, whereas I think the Blackbox can accept some equipment but not all of them. The container datacentre will go where customers want a lot of high density - so it will most probably based on blades and the Blackbox cannot integrate them," he claims.

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