A data center assembly line

Streamlining data center delivery

18 March 2011 by wade vinson - hp

At the turn of the twentieth century Henry Ford implemented a manufacturing process that would forever change how automobiles were built.  With the assembly line, Ford leveraged a highly skilled workforce to bring affordable automobiles to the masses. His innovative manufacturing process reduced production time and cost, allowing more cars to be built.

Ford's concept did not stop at cars.  The world experienced an explosion of mass production that revolutionized how we live even today.  

In 2010, HP created the world's first assembly line for modular data centers.  Called HP POD Works, the assembly line for HP Performance Optimized Datacenters (POD) reduces deployment of a self-contained IT environment from 52 weeks to six, an 88% reduction in implementation time, compared to traditional build-out processes.  POD-Works streamlines the assembly process by producing multiple PODs simultaneously. With this process, HP is continuing its tradition of bringing industrial techniques to computing production.

The POD
Modular data centers are pre-designed, self-contained IT environments that can be customized to the specific needs of service providers and other business environments, especially those that require significant scale. Housed in a 20ft or 40ft steel containers, PODs are similar to traditional brick-and-mortar data centers in that they need networking for data communications, water for cooling, and power to be fully functional. Traditional data centers can take one to two years to build at a cost of up to $20 million per 1MW.

Manufacturing the POD
HP POD-Works is a 10,000-sq-ft facility with seven production stations outfitted with 6.4MW of power, chilled water and network connectivity. The first step to assembling the POD is to upload each container with preconfigured racks.  Next, the PODs are transferred to the production bays for performance validation and overall system testing.  After ensuring each POD solution performs exactly to specifications, it is packaged for transport directly to the customer site. With the introduction of a system like POD-Works, data centers can be assembled nine times faster, be fully configured and tested in a matter of weeks, all while costing up to 45% less than traditional data centers.

High costs associated with building out a traditional data center have resulted in many organizations putting their plans on hold over the past few years.  While many economists are predicting that the economy is early stages of recovery, financial decision makers are still keeping a close eye on their operating budgets. This makes it difficult for CIOs or IT managers to justify the cost of expanding or building a new facility to house a data center.   Modular data centers are growing in popularity because they are an easier and more cost-effective option for organizations that need to expand their operations to support a growing business.   Traditional data centers can take years to plan, approve, and build, draining a business’s resources even before construction starts.

Why go modular?
Savings a modular data center brings are far greater than the costs of building materials.  On average, power and cooling for a modular data center is 50% more efficient than a traditional data center. For example, HP PODs are 37% more energy efficient than a traditional data center. Water temperature in heat exchangers of the HP POD can be set higher because of close proximity of blowers to servers, which reduced the amount of energy needed to keep the air cool from the time it leaves the blower to the time it arrives at the server. A higher temperature and less distance to blow air equals less power, lowering the energy consumption needed to manage the data center. Traditional data centers are usually larger and require more blowers to distribute cold air.

Another reason modular data centers are continuing to grow in popularity is their ability to be erected in an existing space without having to identify a new area.  Modular data centers can occupy parking lots, roof tops, grass areas, or existing data centers. Installing pre-built data centers in an existing area also allows for a shorter approval process, both internally as well as from local municipalities.

In 2011, HP anticipates even greater adoption and usage of modular data centers.   Traditionally, service providers and high performance computing customers have been the early adopters of this technology. Today, military, financial, and oil-and-gas markets are increasingly looking for ways to quickly add incremental data center capacity.

As the market grows, so does the need for a better way to manufacture these solutions. As the first assembly line for modular data centers in the world, HP POD-Works offers a manufacturing methodology and facility that blends speed with engineering and master craftsmanship.

Just as Mr. Ford did with the assembly line for automobiles, HP POD-Works is redefining how data centers are built and deployed.

About the author: Wade Vinson is HP’s power and cooling strategist and chief technologist for the HP POD

Disclaimer: views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of DatacenterDynamics

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