SGI Ice Cube Air Modular Data Center Offers Air Cooling

SGI is rolling out its Ice Cube Air modular data center, a solution designed to give enterprises a cost-efficient and eco-friendly way to expand the capacity of their facilities.

SGI is unveiling a modular data center offering that lets enterprises build capacity as needed and cool the IT environment using outside air or water from a hose rather than air conditioning units or chilled water.

SGI is showing off the Ice Cube Air on the floor of the Gartner Data Center Conference Dec. 6-8 in Las Vegas. Ice Cube Air is designed to be an inexpensive option for enterprises looking to add capacity to data centers that are reaching capacity who don't want to spend the money or time to add onto the facilities in the traditional ways, according to Bill Mannel, vice president of product marketing at SGI.

It's also a complement to SGI's Ice Cube containerized mobile data center, which the company has been selling for several years, Mannel said in an interview with eWEEK.

"It allows us to extend our Ice Cube product line into new areas," he said.

Where the Ice Cube modular center is good for customers who need mobile solutions-Mannel pointed the military as an example in this area-Ice Cube Air is designed more for businesses that are looking for cost-effective ways to expand the capacity of their data centers. The solutions are available immediately.

The goal is to give enterprises a cost-effective way to grow their data center capacity while driving down power consumption. SGI's Ice Cube Air offerings come in three sizes, the smallest being an 8-foot-long container that can fit up to four server racks. That model starts at $99,000, and enterprises can link four of these offerings to get up to 16 server racks. Businesses also can buy a 20-foot Ice Cube Air, which can fit 10 server racks, and a solution that brings two 20-foot containers together.

The containers can come with SGI equipment inside, or enterprises can put third-party systems inside, Mannel said. SGI will set up the containers and service them.

"We wanted to create very cost-efficient solutions," Mannel said.

The cooling capabilities are a key part of cutting costs. Using outside air is becoming an increasingly popular eco-friendly and inexpensive way to cool data centers. During times of the year when the outside air isn't cool enough, enterprises can use an evaporative cooling system or a traditional chiller system as backups.

Using outside air cooling in an Ice Cube Air container makes the most sense economically and environmentally, Mannel said. A fresh air cooled container has a PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) mark of 1.06. PUE is a ratio for measuring how much of the total power coming into the facility actually reaches the data center equipment, rather than being used for cooling systems or other ancillary reasons. The lower the number, the most energy efficient the data center. Most traditional data centers have PUEs of 1.4 or more, Mannel said.

Most major OEMs offer containerized data centers, a trend kicked off when Sun Microsystems introduced its Project BlackBox almost four years ago. System makers range from Hewlett-Packard and IBM to Dell, Cisco Systems and CirraScale (formerly Verari Systems). Analysts have said that while such offerings will remain a niche, they expect steady growth in the market, with shipments of 300 or more by 2013.

Mannel said that while Ice Cube Air is being marketed at enterprises, SMBs will see advantages in using the containers.

"It's got a broad appeal," he said. "Where [an SMB] may have done something differently, they will now spend $99,000" on an entire data center.