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Containerized Data Centers = Green IT

By Ed Lucente
March 31, 2010

Green IT initiatives are popular among IT professionals. In fact, “Green IT 2.0” is a new buzzword that prescribes a holistic approach to not only greener data center designs and practices, but also for more eco-friendly practices across all functional departments of an organization (e.g., proper e-waste management of toner cartridges or paper).

So why are these trends so hot?

Enterprise-level data centers consume more energy than ever before due to their increasing size, growing design densities, and the popularity of multi-core processor technology in servers. So about 50% of an enterprise data center’s operating cost can be due to the electricity costs to power and cool the IT equipment and facility. Also, for many years, IT departments have been asked to do more with less, and now there exists a positive, politically correct spin on what to call this kind of initiative:  “next generation, green data centers.” The bottom line is that being green means being more cost efficient over the long term.

Best practices in next generation, green data centers include the entire organization, not just the IT department; it also includes the Facilities Department designing data centers and the Executive Committee overseeing corporate eco-responsibility. It’s a very good thing that green IT initiatives are beginning to cross all lines of businesses for better, sustainable approaches to cut energy costs and e-waste. Consider this for example:  desktop/laptop computers are scattered everywhere; PDAs are assigned to employees by the thousands; and departmental printers populate every office floor.

I’m enthusiastic about a newer kind of data center called the containerized data center, or simply, the container. For about two years, companies like Sun Microsystems, HP, and SGI (formerly Rackable Systems) have been delivering high density, energy efficient containers.

The container is designed to be a fully optimized, tightly controlled system complete with sophisticated management and monitoring tools. The container delivers the most energy efficient “data center in a box” with a PUE rating of less than 1.20. The containerized data center confronts challenges faced by IT and Facilities professionals today more effectively than a traditional brick-and-mortar data.


Well, when all of the container’s attributes are taken together, realized benefits are clear. The container:

  • Lowers operating costs
  • Lowers energy (power and cooling) consumption, at least a 25% reduction
  • Increases IT staff productivity

Is more capital efficient

  • 50% of the capital cost for an equivalent brick-and-mortar data center.

Is more energy efficient and greener

  • At least 25% less electricity for power and cooling
  • Attachable to renewable energy sources, such as hydro dams and windmills, at their location
  • Significantly smaller carbon footprint

Accelerates project ROI with IT energy rebates provided by utilities

  • IT energy rebates are maximized
  • Upfront cash rebates can be $300,000 – $500,000 per container

Lowers IT project risk

  • Mitigates investment risks associated with brick-and-mortar data centers, such as construction delays, supply chain issues, cost overruns, site permits, etc.

Is faster to deploy (commission)

  • In weeks versus years
  • Six-week deployments are typical
  • Meets capacity increases more easily

Minimizes over-provisioning with its modular design

  • Matches supply of compute/storage/networking capacity with IT and business demands

Improves operational support and manageability

  • Facility management system that interfaces with any SNMP standard system
  • Increases IT staff productivity

Increases flexibility via a heterogeneous design

  • Accommodates compute, storage, and networking equipment from multiple IT vendors
  • More easily optimized for specific applications

Achieves high availability and reliability (system-wide redundancies)

  • Tier 3 rating, or higher, from the UpTime Institute (now The 451 Group)


  • Can be located indoors or outdoors, on any terrain and in almost any climate

All of these container qualities make for a superior TCO versus brick-and-mortar data centers. Below are container photos:


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