What Will the Data Center of 2020 Look Like? Pg3

by Asif Khan

What About Converged Infrastructure?

Last year, converged infrastructure (ie EMC’s Vblock, NetApp’s FlexPod, IBM’s CloudBurst, HP’s CloudSystem) made a big splash. The premise is to deliver a self-contained rack with a single SKU and single phone number to call for support whether it be a compute, storage, network or hypervisor issue. Though the concept is powerful for smaller IT shops or for specific applications (like VDI or ERP) within large IT shops, this concept is not likely to catch on in the near future with large enterprises for two BIG reasons: process and people.

Large and sophisticated enterprise IT shops typically have well-documented processes for managing, monitoring and supporting their environments. They have good relationships with their vendors and they are used to getting responsive service. By introducing a converged infrastructure, these processes will have to be re-designed and re-documented. The cost and complexity of re-engineering existing processes outweighs the simplicity of having a single throat to choke.

A bigger issue with large enterprises is the organizational structure. There are empires built around singular functions (network, compute, storage, etc). Implementing converged infrastructure across the board means rethinking the org chart. Who will own this *cloud appliance*? Should they create new teams comprised of engineers to cover each discipline or should they remain separate? Should they embrace a DevOps-like approach to realize the efficiencies of a Google, Facebook or Amazon? What does that do to the management hierarchy? Will middle managers lose their jobs?

I recently took a tour of HP’s Build-To-Order factory in Houston. Years ago, HP eliminated the assembly line in lieu of something called cell manufacturing. Instead of having separate lines where workers specialize in installing only motherboards, hard disks or power supplies all day long, they have teams that assemble the entire unit together at a build station. That way, the teams can communicate, collaborate and approve each unit before sending it to a test station. HP explained that this made it easier to detect failures early and to fix them before they went into the test phase. This process turned out to be far more efficient and reliable than assembly line manufacturing where each component was installed separate from the others.

Maybe IT organizations should be considering such a change in how they deliver IT services? Absolutely. But these things take time.

What About the Datacenter Itself?

I saved the best for last. I recently attended a two day technical briefing at HP’s Customer Experience Center in Houston. On the second day, they took us on a factory tour. Although it wasn’t a part of the tour, someone asked what the sign meant that said “POD Station.” We went over to see these “Performance Optimized Datacenters” up close. That did it. We were all totally hooked!

We cancelled the rest of our agenda and brought in a guy they call “The PODfather” for a deeper dive.

What Is a POD And Why Is It Cool?

A POD is either a 20ft or 40ft datacenter-in-a-box. It is designed to ship on an 18-wheeler trailer bed, cargo ship or large plane to anywhere in the world where a data center is needed in a hurry. These PODs were originally introduced in 1997 for the military to setup IT command stations in warzones that had no power, intense heat and lots of sand (which can wreak havoc on IT equipment). PODs are NEMA-3R certified so they can be placed outdoors and are also wind-, rain- and snow-proof.

PODs are designed for high density compute farms. Depending on the model, you get either 22 or 44 racks in a POD. If you believe any of the predictions above, you can immediately see that the POD is the datacenter of the future. Efficient? A Tier3 data center costs $24/Watt to operate, the POD costs less than $15/Watt. PUE (power usage effectiveness) is usually 2.0 or greater for a Tier3 data center. It is 1.05 to 1.25 for a typical POD installation (PUE = INPUT (street power) / OUTPUT (data center power)…lower is better. 1.0 is ideal).

Cost-effective? The 20C model is less than USD $1M. The 40C is about twice that. There is also a 240A model for around USD $4M which is a self-contained dual 40C configuration with an integrated environmnetal control system. The POD delivers 88% faster datacenter deployments, reduces capital expenditures by up to 75%, and reduces energy waste by up to 95% compared to traditional brick-and-mortar datacenters.

From the time an order is placed, the POD ships within six weeks pre-loaded, pre-configured and pre-tested. The typical data center takes 18-24 months to go live. The value proposition is so compelling that HP has stated that their future datacenter growth will be almost entirely POD-based. In other words, they are placing lots of POD-based compute farms in empty warehouses which are fiber-linked to their existing datacenters. This is being done at a small fraction of the cost of building new datacenters.

Oh, one more thing. The IRS considers the POD to be IT equipment so you can depreciate it over 3 years vs 30 years for a traditional data center! I could go on. I don’t mean to sound like an infomercial for HP but this is really cool! Finally, the datacenter itself has become nimble, agile, flexible and all those other superlatives we use to describe the *cloud*. Several other vendors make modular data centers so if you’re not an HP fan, shop around.

Do you agree with these predictions? I tried to confine the discussion to datacenter infrastructure only. Did I miss anything obvious? Let me know in the comments. Thanks as always for reading the blog.


Pg1: The Interview

Pg2: The Coming Decade

Pg3: What About Converged Infrastructure?

5 thoughts on “What Will the Data Center of 2020 Look Like? Pg3

  1. I liked the read and your views Asif. I think your “anecdotal” information certainly lends its weight to this converged revolution we in the industry are experiencing. I, too, am on the side that end-users / consumers of the Flexpods, Vblocks and others, that are going to use these tools for targeted applications rather than global data center replacement. We still need to go through an extensive mindset change to change the adoption of the “new” ways to do business, and I think that, as usual, the technology advancements are far more accelerated than the change in the business model adoption. I am sure we will get there in the end, but the industry vision by relatively few evangelists is still very much out of the immediate adoption plans of the boots on the ground technologists. It is certainly a goal that we need to move towards, but the consumers need to be educated and elevated to new levels, before we see this massive transformation occur.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Simon. Since I wrote this post, a lot has happened in the convergence market. Classic Converged Infrastructure (VBlock, FlexPod, etc) is starting to gain wider popularity for more and more workloads. Hyperconverged Appliances (Converged v2.0) are gaining popularity even faster and new converged models like VMware VSAN and cloud-based integrated storage solutions like Microsoft StorSimple and others are starting to disrupt BAU. Fun times to be a geek!


      Asif Khan

      On Wed, Mar 12, 2014 at 11:29 AM, The Vaporware Blog wrote:


  2. I understand conceptually what you are saying though I think you are missing the main value of a converged infrastructure (which is the foundation for an IT as a Service model) to the business. IT must transform its relationship with the business or become obsolete, or at the least, minimized to “maintaining the day to day” and not creating business value. Who cares who owns what or how many processes need to be rewritten? The function of IT is to support the lines of business and the best IT organizations provide real competitive advantages. Not transforming the way you do business because of antiquated people and/or processes is not a successful long term plan. The end users will find a way to quickly consume the services they need, whether its through traditional IT or not. And a POD? That has its value but for most organizations, its a wasted investment. Where is the return on that investment as compared to a hosted or colo environment?

    1. Johnny,

      First of all, thank you for reading my blog and for offering your thoughtful comments. Second, I want you to know that I spent the last 5 years working for VMware and EMC, evangelizing Converged Infrastructure and IT-as-a-Service strategies. Last year, I joined Accenture as a Converged Infrastructure Specialist and am helping large IT organizations to implement IT-as-a-Service. So I’m with you in thought, brother. But my comments come from my personal experience and is based on, admittedly, anecdotal evidence. For example, I worked with a large healthcare provider last year to implement ITaaS. They determined that the operational cost of re-engineering well-defined support processes was not worth the benefits of having “one number to call” for support. They still realized the benefits of Service-Based IT without breaking what works admittedly well. They still bought Vblocks, Cloudburst and FlexPods…but for very clearly-defined needs, not for general purpose use.

      You are correct when you say that IT serves the business, and that the best IT organizations offer a competitive advantage. And several of my clients can make that claim without implementing converged infrastructure. The truth is, the business could care less how IT racks up their hardware. It’s all about the value the applications bring. My healthcare client’s IT organization serves up Electronic Medical Records on the most inelegant platform you can imagine. I’m working with a major retailer right now whose IT provides a competitive edge through real-time data analytics which runs on a converged appliance (IBM Netezza). However, they see absolutely no reason to implement CI elsewhere in their data center.

      Finally, several of my clients will claim that PODs offer tremendous value to them, and I completely agree. Healthcare companies, Financial companies and most other companies have some information that they simply cannot trust to a public hosted environment. The greatest values of PODs are, in no particular order: cost per sq ft, platform portability, 3 year depreciation schedule, ramp up period measured in months, not years and several other values that I could mention. I used to work for a company called Exodus many years ago (they invented the colo business model) so I know the hosted market very well. PODs offer significant value that a hosted environment simply cannot provide even today. I’m working with a client right now that is planning a data center migration. They are planning to load and test their apps on a POD in California then putting the POD on a train and sending it to their new data center 3,000 miles away. Wasted investment?? Sorry, but I strongly disagree.


      Asif Khan

  3. Interesting you should mention PODs. I had a tour of the SGI/Rackable factory a few years ago. Rackable was the first to put a DC in a container. Being able to avoid construction of a Datacenter building and the associated multiple building inspectors is a huge benefit. Initially MS BING was built using Rackable servers though I think they have chosen other vendor now too. Sun had a similar Datacenter in a box offering. They used to use a beautiful black semi to tow it to trade shows in 2008.

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