Rackable Targets Power, Cooling Concerns with Mobile Data Center

The company's high-density "Concentro" server configuration will compete against Sun's upcoming Project Blackbox.

Rackable Systems is joining the mobile data center parade.

The Milpitas, Calif., company that is best known for its high-density x86 servers and storage products is rolling out its first mobile data center on March 26, which will compete with Sun Microsystems Project Blackbox, which Sun unveiled in October.

Rackables mobile shipping container, which the company dubbed Concentro, is a 40-foot by 8-foot mobile data center with the capacity to hold up to 1,200 of companys rack-mount 1U (1.75-inch) servers.

Intels quad-core processors, which Rackable started using on March 13, will give the shipping container the density of 9,600 processing cores. The container also provides for up to 3.5 petabytes of storage.

Rackable is looking to draw customers to its mobile data center product by highlighting the containers energy efficiency—it uses the companys DC power technology—as well as a self-contained cooling system, said Conor Malone, the companys director of data center solutions.

Within the container, fans draw air through a system of radiators between each rack. The air is then drawn through the servers from the cold center aisle of the container, which allows for a higher water-loop temperature, while reducing air handler power usage, according to Rackable.

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The other way to save energy, Malone said, is to simply drive the data center to a state or city with access to less expensive power.

"A lot of customers are chasing cheap power and land," Malone said. "This modular data center allows them to chase whatever they want."

Rackables Concentro will only use companys hardware. Malone said this will provide a better way to recycle old hardware.

"The useful life of the equipment in a data center is anywhere from three to five years," Malone said. "What this container allows customers to do is to return the data center to us and then we equip it with the latest and greatest technology, and they are no longer burdened with older systems that are of no use to them."

By contrast, Suns Blackbox container can be built using servers from either its product line or systems built by IBM, Dell or Hewlett-Packard.

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Research, said Sun is trying to use Blackbox to increase its services division, which is why the company will use other vendors hardware in its shipping container. Rackable, on the other hand, wants to place as much of its product in the marketplace as possible.

"Part of the beauty of what Sun is doing is that the company sees some value in the sale of infrastructure, even if its just selling the box, because they can see a profit," King said. "For a smaller company, its a matter of selling as many systems as possible."

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After announcing Blackbox, Sun took a prototype on the road as a way of introducing the technology to IT administrators and the public. The company said the first six shipping containers that have been ordered—the base price of the container is about $500,000—will be sent to customers within the next month.

So far, Rackable has sold one of its mobile data centers. The company has also not set a base price for the shipping container, and Colette LaForce, the companys vice president of marketing, said it would be hard to determine a set price since the data center can be configured to the customers specifications.

The container also comes with a number of security and monitoring features. For example, one feature will alert an administrator at a companys headquarters if someone has opened the data centers door.

LaForce said Rackable believes that large Internet companies and specific verticals, such as the military and government, would likely invest in the companys technology.

"We really believe that the density we are offering and the amount of cores contained in this space will really separate us from what other companies have been doing," LaForce said.

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