Modular Future: The Data Center in a Shipping Container

Data centers are the key underlying element of every big company today. They are built to support the infrastructure of the company and are indeed the last part of the business that can afford to fail at any point in time. This is why most of the data centers out there are constructed to withstand all possible difficulties and, with that in mind, they are built to be robust, big and energy consuming.

Ever since the time of the first data centers, the technology advanced with giant leaps to become what we can witness today. However, (quite understandably) conservative data center design never seemed to follow this progress – the huge buildings are still there, with plenty of air conditioning ready to cool the equipment that doesn’t need that much cooling anymore, redundant energy supplies to keep the machines running even if the technology which would keep them running for hours in case of some serious shortages already exists.

Changing the paradigm

All in all, the traditional approach to data center design seems safe and not too many people in the business world feel like they should gamble with innovations. Why fix it if it’s not broken, right?

Well, it turns out that fixing what’s not broken is one of the cornerstones of going forward and this is why some visionaries with enough money to support their ventures into the unknown decided to change this “it needs to be huge in order to be safe” paradigm. You guessed it already, it was Google.

Back in 2005, Google’s engineers decided to pack as much raw computing power in as little space as possible and came up with an idea to use shipping containers. The original facility was a frame on which containers could be hanged and added when the need for more power arose. For starters, they packed it with 45 containers, and each of these could support 1,160 servers. The power consumption was around 250 kilowatts and still the operating temperature was at the cool 81 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Benefits of compact data centers

Once Google pioneered the idea, more people became interested in all the benefits of shipping container server farms. The first obvious advantage is the size – 20 ft to 40 ft long containers pack the power which once required a whole building, and the maintenance costs are simply incomparable. However, as the guys from Royal Wolf NZ who work with those containers on a daily basis claim, the biggest plus of those portable data centers lies in the fact that they can be deployed as necessary wherever the company who owns them might need them. Shipping containers are made for transport and this is almost a dream come true for companies which have multiple centers across the country.

Drawbacks?

When talking about a new idea, it is wise to mention the downsides of it as well. It is hard to do so when it comes to shipping container data centers for the simple reason that there is little not to like about them. They are compact, safe, portable and cost less than their huge building counterparts.

They are, nevertheless, still met with a lot of skepticism from the managers. The traditional way of thinking finds it hard to conform to the idea of something so simple. It almost sounds too good to be true and, paradoxically, this is why the shipping container data center market is still struggling to get on its feet.

About the Author

Ariel Bellamy is a curious and open-minded thinker – finding solutions where needed and writing them when needed. She hopes to be an inspiring online voice one day, so follow her on the way there – on @BellamyAriel

Photo credit: Phil Hollenback

2 thoughts on “Modular Future: The Data Center in a Shipping Container

  • February 9, 2015 at 10:49 pm
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    Wow that’s so awesome! Ariel you really picked a great subject for the Monday article! Love it

    Reply
  • February 18, 2015 at 4:56 pm
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    Actually… It was Sun Microsystems. In 2001/2 we devised a way to Air drop portable data centers and class rooms into Nigeria. The World bank was going to fund the program, when the minister of education was replaced. The program was scrapped. In 2002/3 UCSD/CalIT2 started talking to Sun about the concept. I left Sun in June 05 and the project was well underway….

    http://www.jacobsschool.ucsd.edu/news/news_releases/release.sfe?id=737

    Reply

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