Standardization Will Speed Uptake of Containerized Data Center Solutions, says IMS Research

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“The benefits of containerized data centers are significant: mobility, speed of deployment, off-site manufacturing, outsourcing of design, and potential tax savings. Unfortunately, the current higher price of containerized solutions, as compared to like-for-like traditional builds, outweigh these benefits in many customer decisions,” says Liz Cruz, a senior research analyst with IMS Research, introducing the company’s newly announced report, “The World Market for Containerized Data Centers – 2012 Edition”.

I’m a big fan of IMS Research – they have long term experience of the sector and their reports over the years have a been great source of insights and data. So when I saw the above quote from Liz I was so surprised at first I thought I’d misread it. After all, Schneider Electric and the other manufacturers supplying a range of IT, Facility Module and All-in-one containerized solutions promote on the basis of the cost and time advantages they provide over traditional facilities.

But at the UK launch of Schneider Electric’s EMEA Facility Modules, Tony Day, director of datacenter projects and professional services had said “Modularity… allows the possibility of standardization [which] permits quality, reliability and efficiency to be driven up and cost to be driven down”. Tony is at pains to point out that not all modular data center solutions are containers, but that all containers should be modular and standardized. Standardization seems to be a key reason why perceptions reported by IMS seem a long way from the sales pitches. Very kindly, Liz Cruz agreed to meet me on the telephone to discuss this.

“We didn’t specifically set out gather any statistics about this, but the impression we gained was that the lack of standardization is a critical factor preventing customers being able to realize the principal benefits of containerization. Manufacturers need to provide a portfolio of designs which can meet common application needs. At the moment, for example, speed of deployment cannot be realized because manufacturers are being asked to go back to the drawing board for every installation,” Liz told me.

“This means that in addition to the 4 – 6 weeks required for manufacturing the modules, there are months of design work needed. This makes the process not especially speedier or more straightforward than traditional ways of building data centers – it is faster, but not fast enough to overcome cost hurdles. It could be that the industry needs a standards body like UL or Uptime to step in and suggest a framework for more commonality,” Liz said.

Tony Day would agree: “Standardized modular datacenter architecture should provide a system which allows full freedom to design a unique solution to meet unique business requirements using readily available, cost effective building blocks. Selecting the right size for the building blocks is crucial for such an architecture to be successful; to avoid creating restrictions for the designer or a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Eventually these could be held as inventory items, enabling a JIT or ‘off the shelf’ delivery of the infrastructure in parity with the IT requirement.”

Other barriers to adoption identified in the research are bound up with the adoption of new ideas: Liz Cruz commented, “Containerized solutions are a relatively new thing in a market which is conservative by nature and highly risk averse. And the risks encountered are different: The containers are outside not inside. You can’t service them the same way as traditional data center infrastructure, and you can’t necessarily overcome the urge that some people have to go and hug their servers. Also there are concerns about the physical threat to equipment not hidden behind solid brick walls.”

That notwithstanding, IMS predicts healthy growth for the sector with shipments of containerized data centers are forecast to grow 40 percent in 2013 compared to 2012, following a near doubling of the market in 2012. For more details about the report, please visit the website for IMS Research or click here.

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