Data centers: Make mine modular

Be prepared for a tight squeeze, though; prefab units are not known for being spacious

1 2 3 4 Page 3
Page 3 of 4

After some further analysis, Campbell ordered a pod from Hewlett-Packard with the idea that additional structures could be added as the need arose. "We're getting ready to plan our cluster" for this summer, Campbell says, "and right now the vendor says in 60 days or less they can have [a pod] over here," Campbell states. The modular facility will be an adjunct to the main data center.

The approach also turned out to be significantly less expensive than any of the other options Campbell and his staff considered. "It was about half the cost of what we would pay for co-lo space," he says. There were other benefits, too. "It's extremely energy efficient, compared to our older data center," he says. "It's more flexible . . . we can build and add as we need the growth."

The Purdue pod holds one research cluster, a model that will continue as more pods are added. Working space, however, can be problematic. "There's plenty of room to work in the front, but tighter in the back," Campbell says. "You really want [to use] it for something that you don't plan on accessing all the time."

The only deployment challenge, Campbell says, was getting some of his staff accustomed to working with a facility located in an external structure. "The service support staff was already familiar with accessing anything and fixing anything in a remote way, but it seemed a lot easier when the data center was still down the hall," he says. "This [new data center] is down the street, and while they've been using all the remote stuff for years, it's made things a little bit different when an on-site visit is needed."

In winter, for example, staff members need extra time to dress appropriately.

Supporting the "final frontier"

Raymond G. Obrien, project manager of Nebula, NASA's open source-based cloud computing initiative, is exploring modular data centers with a pod supplied by San Diego-based Cirrascale. He plans to see if the approach could help NASA better manage its voracious computing appetite.

"Growth estimates and other factors showed we could be on a course to exhaust available data center capacity at Ames Research Center, and possibly some other NASA centers in the future, if we didn't aggressively formulate a cutting-edge solution," he says. "We decided to acquire a containerized data center to better understand if this alternative would be a good way to address our planned growth."

NASA juggles scores of different research projects, each with its own computing needs, an environment that seems almost ideal for the use of modular facilities. NASA's container is configured to allow a variety of server form factors, "giving us the ability to test different server and storage configuration approaches," Obrien says. "This is proving essential in determining which configurations will best support the usage patterns being demonstrated by NASA projects."

Being able to quickly and easily add computing and storage resources without having to deal with space constraints in existing data centers is a big potential benefit, Obrien says. Additionally, the standard size and minimal connection interfaces needed for containerized data centers make it easier to project future site space requirements and facility preparation costs to accommodate planned growth, he says.

While Obrien hasn't yet reached a final conclusion on the modular possibility, he says the Nebula team has already learned one important lesson: Pay close attention to cable management. "There isn't much room inside containers," Obrien says. "The server equipment is very densely packed, so having a good cable management approach will ensure [that] your technical support team can move around inside and easily identify the cabling associated with server and network resources requiring attention or maintenance."

NASA's Raymond G. Obrien
Raymond G. Obrien, project manager of Nebula, NASA's open source-based cloud computing project, hasn't yet reached a final conclusion on the modular possibility. But he says the Nebula team has already learned one important lesson: Pay close attention to cable management. Photo credit: Nick Theodore / NASA.
1 2 3 4 Page 3
Page 3 of 4
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon