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Tech Watch: Data centers in a box battle virtualization

When it comes to the data center, VARs resist the idea of being boxed in.

While some customers are curious about preconfigured data center containers that make deployment more modular, several VARs say their needs are too custom or specific to be served well by this approach.

"This will be outside most VARs' focus for at least five years," said Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst with The StorageIO Group.

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Data center in a box

Steve Kaplan, vice president of the data center virtualization practice for Inx Inc., a VAR based in Sacramento, Calif., said the concept of preconfigured data center configurations seems to run counter to the virtualization movement sweeping corporate America.

"For us, the virtualization platform is the most efficient way to go. In order to do that, you have to customize the architecture. The servers aren't just something you can plop in," Kaplan said.

What's more, some VARs believe the development of cloud computing architectures offers a more compelling option for boosting data center capacity quickly on a short- or long-term basis.

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"You still need to bring more bandwidth in, too, to address the fundamental problem," said Phil Mogavero, president and CEO of Data Systems Worldwide Inc., a network integrator with headquarters in Los Angeles. "Given that, why wouldn't you just connect your client to another data center in order to provide more capacity?"

Kris Domich is principal consultant for the data center and storage practice at Dimension Data (DiData), with North America headquarters in New York. He has a more tempered perspective. "First and foremost, I think the concept of this is really cool," Domich said. "It does offer the ability to do some things that you can't do in the confines of a building."

While DiData has had some customers inquire about the technology, none have asked outright for an assessment.

For example, Domich says data center containers could help in situations where a company is faced with moving or upgrading an existing data center. A container could offer a temporary place to shift processing power while other work is going on. In addition, ruggedized and secured versions could be applicable in places where a temporary data center must be sited somewhere close to other resources, such as a government or military installation, Domich said.

"To completely abandon an existing data center and put it into a container doesn't seem to be a compelling thing to do," he said. "But it could provide some cost reductions in very specific situations like this."

Data Systems' Mogavero sees possible applications among companies with very short-term needs for processing power, such as a media company that wants to process lots of video on the location of a very large event. But, he believes the virtual data center capabilities offered by cloud computing architectures may offer a more compelling option.

Despite the skepticism, some vendors that are pushing the "data center in a box" concept see a role for VARs and systems integrators as the movement gains momentum. Among vendors that have made a commitment to modular data center architectures are Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Rackable Systems, Sun Microsystems and Verari Systems.

Rackable, for example, works closely with VARs to customize its container requirements for individual customers, said Geoffrey Noer, vice president of product management for Rackable, based in Palo Alto, Calif. "Our resellers would handle the server configurations going into the container," he said.

Sun, likewise, expects its more technical partners to play a role in the adoption of its modular data centers, said Maurice Cloutier, product group marketing manager for Sun Modular Datacenter (aka Project Blackbox), based in Santa Clara, Calif. He cautions, though, that there is a difference in philosophy: Instead of selling into the data center, a VAR must represent the needs of the entire data center. What's more, the service opportunity will be limited. At least during the early stages, Sun will provide its own technical support.

Schulz says VARs that are intimately involved in blade center configurations, and are configuring ultra-dense solutions that include servers, storage, networking and other capabilities in one cabinet, will find it easiest to assess and work with a data center in a box architecture.

"They can really figure out where it makes sense," he said.

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