HP Enters the Mobile Datacenter Market

It was one thing for Sun Microsystems and Rackable Systems to offer up datacenters in a shipping container for easy transport, but when a giant like HP gets into the market, that’s a sign the idea has arrived. (Actually, HP is the second computer giant to join the club, following an announcement by IBM earlier this month).

HP today announced a container-based datacenter called HP Performance Optimized Data Center, or HP POD. It packs more than 3,500 compute nodes, or 12,000 large form factor hard drives (the 3.5-inch drives, which have reached 1TB of capacity), into a 40-foot shipping container. That translates into the equivalent of 4,000-plus square feet of typical datacenter capacity.

What makes the POD different is that it doesn’t use proprietary racks, it uses standard sized racks. If a customer wants to load IBM, Dell or Sun gear, they can do just that, according to Steve Cumings, director of infrastructure in the Scalable Computing and Infrastructure group at HP (NYSE: HPQ). (IBM said its Portable Modular Data Center also supports competitor’s equipment).

“Customers have said don’t give us a container that only holds HP equipment,” Cumings told InternetNews.com. “They wanted a system that mimics their datacenter environment. We will test and ship it configured as the customer wants it.”

HP will provide services to help a customer decide if it needs such a mobile datacenter, how many they should get, and where to place it. Cumings said the target market is companies running out of capacity and in need of a quicker, cheaper fix than a full-blown datacenter.

Running out of capacity

“The market is approaching redness. People are running out of capacity,” he said. “We don’t expect containers will take over someone’s datacenter strategy, but it gives them advantages on proximity to their computing needs. You can put it in low cost, energy efficient environments and pay for the capacity as you need it. In a brick and mortar system, you pay for the capacity you need and capacity you will need that sits unused.”

Forrester Research analyst James Staten said HP’s entry in the field definitely validates the concept of a mobile datacenter. “It’s hard to take it any other way,” he said.

However, he said that IT shops still need to be educated on the value of a container-based datacenter. “That’s still not very well articulated by the vendors out there, why you need one,” said Staten. “It’s an extremely high efficiency datacenter that you can put anything in, but you make a significant investment commitment because we’re talking about something that can hold a massive row of racks.”

Staten also applauded HP for supporting other vendors. “The value proposition for containers is not like a server, it’s more like services,” he said. “I think that’s been the hindrances of the previous offerings on the market, they have too many tradeoffs for customers to be really comfortable with it.”

HP said PODs can be deployed in as little as six weeks. They are built to order and HP is beginning to take orders now. More information can be found on the PODs site.

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