HP’s new FlexDC data center represents the entry of the world’s largest computer company into the modular data center game.
The growing ranks of players in this area seek to provide owners of overcrowded data centers with expansion opportunities that are cheap, fast and energy-efficient. A secondary market consists of organizations that require unexpected data center capacity in out-of-the-way places.
Modular data centers range from self-contained units that fit into a trailer-sized shipping container to site-built facilities that are closer to the traditional concept of a data center. The self-contained units such as Sun’s Modular Datacenter S20 can be moved using conventional truck, train or boat transport and operated anywhere users can tap into water, power, the Internet and an external chiller. Designs such as HP’s just-announced offering and IBM’s aren’t designed to be mobile, but they can be built quickly to serve needs that outgrow space and budgets.
FlexDC employs a so-called butterfly design incorporating a central core unit with four surrounding quadrants. Each quadrant is rated at 800 kilowatts for a total capacity of 3.2 kilowatts. The design employs prefabricated modules to reduce construction costs. Operational costs are further cut, HP says, by applying industrial design techniques to improve efficiency of mechanical and electrical systems.
According to specifics supplied by HP, the FlexDC design offers considerable cost-effectiveness. Based on a test conducted at a North Carolina facility, the company estimates that a user would save $26 million of the $58 million estimated cost, or 55 percent, for site and facility development of a conventional next-generation data center. The projections show an 89 percent savings in water, 14 percent savings in energy usage and total lifetime savings of 37 percent, or $65 million, of the present value cost of $104.6 million over 20 years.
While organizations may be able to justify and raise the amount needed to build a new conventional data center, finding the time is another. Modular data centers can be online in about as much time as it takes to turn the first shovel of dirt in a conventional center project. IBM, for instance, says one of its modular data centers requires about two to three months to become fully functional, compared to six to 12 months to design and build a new data center. Even renovating a traditional raised-floor center takes significantly longer, according to IBM.
Simplicity is another issue. Through its wholly owned subsidiary, EYP Mission Critical Facilities, HP will supply FlexDC customers with professional engineering services in addition to its usual technology consulting and product offerings. So, if nothing else, FlexDC could well streamline the process of dealing with vendors when designing and building a new data center.
With the raft of recent modular data center offerings, building a new data center may not be quite as quick and easy as, say, snapping together a Lego kit. But it’s getting close to choosing one from column A and one from column B, a la your favorite Chinese restaurant.
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