Sir, Your Data Center Has Arrived

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At the HP Technology Forum in Las Vegas, HP and Active Power were showing off their data-center-in-a-box (HP POD) and power-supply-in-a-box (PowerHouse) respectively. Each product is built into a standard 40 foot metal cargo container and were designed to augment a company’s existing data center when they run out of cycles.

CPUs and Disks in a POD

Called the POD – Performance Optimized Data Center, the mobile data center enables customers to expand their data center capacity in support of their IT and business growth without the need to create a new physical facility to accommodate their growing IT needs.


“Customers have more flexibility to balance their capital expenditures and operating expenses while quickly and seamlessly meeting their needs for additional capacity with HP PODs,” said Christine Martino, vice president and general manager, Scalable Computing and Infrastructure Organization, HP.

The 40 foot HP container can house up to 3,500 compute nodes, or 12,000 LFF (3.5” hot pluggable) hard drives. This results in a 4,000-plus square feet equivalent of a typical data center capacity. HP claims that it is able to ship a customer-specific POD within six weeks of the order.

The POD is HP’s answer to SUN’s Project BlackBox, originally announced in October 2006, which is now sold as the SunModular Datacenter S20. However, Sun’s offering is a 20 foot container compared to the HP POD which is a 40 foot container.

Power to the Processors

Active Power’s PowerHouse provides the complementary power and cooling system to your POD or S20. Again, the system is housed in a standard shipping container, and comes in a series of standard formats and of varying sizes from 240-kW up to almost 1-MW.

Active Power’s UPS systems differentiator is that they don’t use batteries. This makes their solutions much greener than those from competing vendors which usually require tons of lead-acid batteries – which need to be replaced at regular intervals. While some of Active Powers’ solutions store energy as compressed air and heat, PowerHouse is a unique combination of integrated high efficiency flywheel UPS, standby diesel generator, switchgear and chiller.


With the highly efficient flywheel, the UPS in PowerHouse offers the highest overall efficiency in the industry — 98 percent, compared to approximately 92% for that
of a battery UPS system. That’s a 75% savings on electricity, and in the smallest multi-megawatt footprint. This greener, cleaner architecture eliminates lead and chemical waste by removing the need for batteries and it also removes the maintenance, replacement and disposal costs associated with batteries.

Company literature states that a pre-fabricated plant room will be fully designed and customized to a company’s specifications and outfitted with their choice of engines, switchgear and architecturally complementing finishes. Active Power doesn’t state lead times.

2/3 of a Great Story

When the POD and  PowerHouse first came into view while I was coming down the escalator I thought, “Cool disaster recovery solution.” But apparently Active Power’s Vice President of Business Development, Martin T. Olsen, hadn’t thought about that aspect of their product.

If you think about it, the only thing missing from the mobile recovery triumvirate is workspace recovery. Sure, a number of companies offer trailers which can be filled with workstations, but none that I know of are built into a 40 foot cargo container.

Workforce Recovery Trailer
Workspace Recovery Trailer

Ships, trains, trucks, and helicopters all are equipped to handle cargo containers with no changes – and containers can be stacked for storage. The same cannot be said for the current recovery solutions which are built into trailers. So if your business impact analysis tells you that you need your own drop it anywhere now solution you might be interested in having these containers on hand well before you need them. If you don’t need or can’t justify your own, perhaps the leading IT disaster recovery providers such as HP, IBM, and SunGard could be talked into building and stocking a handful of containers that they could sell under a shared arrangement to their customers.

Some more about the PowerHouse

While this really is a post about how the above components can be used for disaster recovery, I wanted to add some specs on the Active Power solutions because they are built with such cool technology. Warning, the following could turn you into a geek, so read on at your own risk. Now, here are the specs:

  • 600 pound forged 4340 (aircraft-grade) steel rotor
  • Spins at 7700RPM in a rough vacuum with an edge speed of 600MPH

    PowerHouse Cross Section
    PowerHouse Cross Section
  • Magnetic pulses in the Z-coils surrounding the rotor are used to attract the rotor, spinning it up to and maintaining speed.
  • When in normal operation, very little energy (<1,250 Watts) is used to keep the rotor spinning.
  • When an outage occurs, it changes state from a motor to a generator providing uninterrupted power to the output of the UPS for 15 seconds at 100% load (240kW).
  • The discharge curve is fairly linear at lower loads (i.e. ~30 seconds at 50% load).
  • The system packs twice the power in half the space for a total space reduction of up to 75% – which is how this beast can fit into a cargo container.
  • It has has been studied by third party risk and failure mode experts, who concluded that it is SEVEN times less likely to fail compared to that of a battery UPS. And again, no lead-acid batteries to dispose of every few years.

In addition to the PowerHouse, Active Power uses the same technology to build an energy storage system that will fit into an existing computer room. The CleanSource DC keeps your systems running while the CoolAir DC also keeps them cooled until your generators kick in. The system is so low maintenance that it comes with an up to a 10-year warranty.

Unlike the CleanSource which uses a flywheel as its sole energy storage medium, the CoolAir stores energy in the form of compressed air and heat. During a utility outage, the compressed air is routed through a Thermal Storage Unit (TSU) to acquire heat energy. The heated air spins a simple turbine/alternator to produce electric power. As a byproduct of this process, frigid air is discharged providing cooling for the protected environment. The CoolAir DC also contains a small, continuous-duty flywheel to support the critical load during the brief period required for the turbine to spin up to speed.

See the illustrations below. Which would you rather maintain?

UPS Battery Room
UPS Battery Room
Active Power Flywheel
Active Power Flywheel

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