Exclusive Sun Microsystems endured a lot of ribbing when it first popped out a data center in a shipping container. Now, however, it looks like all the majors are heading in that direction, including Dell, which The Register has learned has a containerized data center in development.
"We have (a container system) in the works for a customer," said a Dell insider. "We are looking at that space very, very closely."
According to multiple sources, Dell's container plans extend beyond a one-off box. So, Dell will join the likes of Sun, Rackable Systems and Verari that already have so-called White Trash Data Centers, and IBM, which plans to work its iDataPlex units into containers.
Initially, server makers pitched the containers as options for government customers, national labs and financial services types that needed a ton of horsepower but didn't want to shell out for a new data center. The Army, for example, could dump a data center in a container anywhere as long as it had power and water, and financial services types in New York could place these systems on the top of buildings, since they've run out of in-building space.
Microsoft recently took things to the next level by buying close to 200 containers to power its cloud.
Interestingly, Dell has been working with Liebert for some time around cooling, and there is some suspicion that Dell's container will use refrigerant based micro-channel coils with a refrigerant-to-water heat exchanger for external cooling connectivity. Those in the know also say it's unlikely that Dell will have a built-in uninterruptible power supply. That may not be such a big deal if Dell wants the Microsoft business, since Redmond's request for proposals didn't demand an integrated UPS or so we hear.
Based on all of this, it sounds a lot like Dell geared up a container for Microsoft's late April RFP.
And now let's get to that search darling.
For almost two years, Dell has run a Data Center Solutions (DCS) program where it will make bespoke systems if the orders are large enough. DCS mostly caters to the cloud set - Web 2.0 type firms and large service providers - but it's also touching business high performance computing customers like oil and gas firms who think they can take advantage of the program.
Basically, Dell sits down with a customer in a given vertical - say, search - and figures out what types of servers and storage apply best to the job at hand. It comes up with unique board designs or finds a supplier in Taiwan with suitable parts and crafts a cloud-ready system. Then, Dell offers that package up to other customers in similar verticals. (Although, the company will make custom systems for companies in the same vertical, if the order is sufficient.)
To date, Dell has come up with four homegrown units under DCS. Three of these are server units, and another is a storage box. We'll be profiling the hardware in a future story that looks at various vendors' gear in the cloud space.
One system, however, really caught our attention and is worth some ink now. It's the XS23, which regular folk cannot buy.
Dell refuses to comment on the server publicly, although we managed to work some information about the hardware out of source.
The XS23 squeezes 4 two-socket servers (in a 2X2 stack) in a 2U chassis along with twelve 3.5 inch SAS/SATA drives across the front of the system. It was designed for a search company, which we believe was Ask.com.
As we understand it, the disk to DIMM count was very important for this search customer, who wanted three drives for every server. This design was enough for the unnamed customer to buy tens of thousands of systems, according to our source.
The Dell system consumes 25 per cent less space than your general purpose blades, which do about 16 two-socket servers in 10U. Dell, of course, stripped out the redundant power supplies and fans to get that density, but these cloud folks have software that can deal with failures just fine.
There's something a bit jaw-dropping about Dell's DCS approach since you might think it the last Tier 1 to do this type of custom work. And yet, here's Dell "the box shifter" ahead of its major rivals in the cloud game.
Sun and IBM deserve credit for trying some unique things as well. HP . . . . Well, HP, where the heck are you in all of this?
Anyway, after learning about the containers and looking at the XS23, we're thinking more and more that Rackable Systems' investors are really regretting the company's alleged decision to turn down an acquisition offer from Dell. It looks like Dell has the muscle and creativity to take care of the cloud set on its own. ®