Modular Meets Open Compute, A Match Made in the Heaven!

Last year I would not have been able to write this story as I had a self-inflicted rule to avoid the mention of any specific vendor by name during the discussion of innovation. In 2014 I have decided to write about things that are introduced by leading vendors that catch my attention for some business impacting reason. I am sure you will agree that most of these innovations are also catching the attention of other data center activists too.  (This new practice saves me the time of answering a bunch of individual emails asking about specific vendor names)

Modular and Open Compute: The Perfect Private Cloud

Modular and Open Compute: The Perfect Private Cloud

So that brings me to IO’s latest introduction of their private cloud building block offering. Think: Modular meets Computing to yield a ready-to-go Cloud building blocks. Modular structures (IO’s original core competency) combined with industry standard computing (as provided by Open Compute). Anyone that reads my published materials knows that I am a big fan of both.

Building data centers ‘from scratch’ and trying to re-invent the wheel each time just seems so old-school (and expensive, long in duration, etc). In 1999, I saw my first modular entry. It was a million dollar ISO shipping container touring the USA on the back of a tractor-trailer that originated in Rhode Island. In 1999, modular was a novel concept, but the industry had little reason to consider alternatives to brick and steel, and just a few years later we had the dot-com burst with the resulting abundance of seemingly unlimited cheap data center space. At that time, we all asked why would anyone use modular? Five years later it became apparent that those OLD data centers were NOT going to cut it for onslaught of new high power and high-density IT solutions, and during the Christmas of 2006 or so, I found myself parking my car in a converted data center near San Jose airport which emphasized just how unsuitable those old centers were for modern IT deployments. (I was a bit surprised that they did NOT try to charge me for parking my car by the square foot!)

So back to modular. Modular makes sense (and cents) and the analysts of late are pretty pumped about it as well. Uptime’s latest survey puts nearly one-fifth of their network of 1000 respondents claiming that some form of modular will be part of the next 18 month future. Modular (when done right) allows you to stand up YOUR gear, in some cases HALF A MEGAWATT of it at a time, in just a handful of months. Start to finish. Months, not years! No surprise that a fifth of the enterprises they surveyed are planning on adding some modular capacity.

So Modular creates an uber-efficient ready-to-load ‘box’. Then the question is what do you fill that box with? Do the IT guys also have to re-invent their own wheel over and over again too? How cool would it be if the chosen modular vendor could also supply the ENTIRE building block of everything, including the IT gear? Everything you need to compute, store and network within their fixed form ‘box’. Gear that was open, standard and secure. That is exactly what IO has now done. Imagine taking a brand new data center, fully loaded with the perfect complement of IT processing gear, and then just cutting it up in bite-sized (500kW) chunks ready to connect where every you want, at the drop of a hat. Want a MEG of computing? Buy two. Want two Meg worth? Buy four. Just decide where you want them to sit, connect to power and your core network, and you are up and running.

Now there are a couple of details worth discussing. First, the modular ‘box’ approach is just plain efficient. The design is optimized and incorporates the best technologies for each subsystem, all tightly chosen (not inherited) to be interweaved, monitored and actively managed. Why burden a control system to support the least common denominator for all of the industry’s possible chillers when in this specific case you know exactly what YOUR chiller will be each and every time, because the modular enclosure vendor chose it by design. Doing so enables vendors like IO to go ahead and take maximum advantage of each and every chosen component, rather than having to ‘accommodate’ some type of one-off or inherited facility. The IO ‘box’ is highly defendable, economical and a great example what a standardized factory / assembly line can churn out. I really have no affiliation to IO, but find George’s approach to be aw-inspiring.

Second, consider the IT gear that fills the ‘box’. IO has chosen to supply a fully functional complement of open servers, switches and storage which are needed for processing. To do so, they chose gear based upon the Open Compute Project (OCP) specification, pioneered by companies like Facebook and other hyper-scale users. OCP is the Open Source version of hardware. All vendors that make servers based upon the Open Compute specification physically fit and work. They are compatible. Building racks using Open Compute creates an open environment. Again, like the enclosure structure, standardization is the key. Most of the Tier-1 server vendors have an Open Compute node offering and in this case IO chose the DELL ES-2600’s for their OCP racks.

So what caught my attention? IO got past theory and is delivering this today. They put this standardized IT complement inside their standardized modular structure, add deep granular control and active management and they have something pretty special. A chunk of computing ready to go. A solution that starts with a single chunk and then scales as big as you like with industry leading performance, interoperability and intelligence, completely secure and open.

How does this all related to the Cloud I mentioned at the top of this story?  There are some very specific capabilities that make up a “Cloud” and while everyone has their own spin on it, I think the NIST organization has one of the most balanced and unbiased definitions I have seen (ref: NIST 800-145). In that document, they call out a handful of key capabilities that are required for a Cloud (public or private have the same requirements):

  • On Demand Self Service Provisioning
  • Broad Network Access
  • Resource Pooling
  • Rapid Elasticity
  • Measured Services

Take standardized enclosures, add standardized IT gear, install it in a suitable location and then throw in a advanced layer of provisioning and management software and you have the perfect building block for a Private Cloud. Since everything inside the IO offering is standardized and automated, with control and chargeback, rapid provisioning, etc, they have built the very definition of Cloud, all in easy to eat 500kW bites.

Did I get your attention?

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Mark Harris Fremont, CA
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