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7/18/2012
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Dell Launches Military Data Centers-In-A-Box

Self-contained, portable, weatherproof data centers are easily transported alongside military operations.

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Dell has introduced an "anytime, anywhere" data center for the military that can be transported by aircraft and operate in extreme weather conditions.

Dell's Tactical Mobile Data Center (TMDC) has been designed for maximum portability, using the military standard ISU-96 container, which measures 10 feet wide by 10 feet long, said John Fitzgerald, CTO for Dell Federal. "This one was inspired by a customer request for something that blended in, something that didn't look like a data center. It's just one more option about how you can configure and deploy [servers]," he said.

One container holds what Dell calls an IT pack, consisting of three server racks with power distribution and data connections. A second houses an AC/UPS pack, which includes a glycol closed-loop system for cooling the IT pack and battery backup. The data center can be powered by electricity, where available, or by generators. Each container is equipped with fire suppression, emergency power-off, high-density cooling, backup ventilation, remote environmental monitoring (including video), intrusion monitoring, and controls for temperature, humidity, and airflow.

The containers are certified for air transport in military fixed-wing or commercial aircraft, and can withstand shifting during takeoffs and landings or flying through rough weather. They can also be transported by forklift, helicopter, rail car, and ship. Dell says they are not only weatherproof, but dust- and sand-proof, as well.

[ Learn from government mistakes. See How Not To Plan A Data Center. ]

Multiple units can be connected together, so the system can be expanded beyond a three-rack server configuration. And connection plugs for power and connectivity are on the outside, making it both easy and fast to dismantle hookups and move the units, an important consideration for military applications and emergency situations.

"The problem we're solving is how do you get the data and the computing power closer to the warrior," Fitzgerald said. "As you look at the explosion of data, information from drone planes, soldiers walking around with handhelds, [you've] got to get the processing power closer to them."

Physical proximity of computing power will support big data applications on the battlefield and in remote regions without requiring a WAN connection, Fitzgerald said. The TMDC could also be used by first responders, as well as for some commercial scenarios, he added.

While the TMDC is being introduced in this configuration, Fitzgerald said the mobile server container can be reconfigured to meet just about any requirement. If a military unit needs everything in a single container, a server rack comes out and the AC/USP unit can be put in its place. "These are like Lego building blocks," he said. "You can piece together what you need."

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Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/20/2012 | 4:27:10 AM
re: Dell Launches Military Data Centers-In-A-Box
I would have to disagree with the idea that you have to move processing power closer to the warfighter.

You need to make sure that the warfighter and commander has all of the data that they need for the appropriate amount of situational awareness while in theater. An easier way of doing this (and possibly more scaleable), would be to increase the amount of available bandwidth in the area.

Without bandwidth/connectivity, all of the data processing power in the world doesn't do a bit of good. Having a couple of full server racks forward deployed on the battlefield in an attempt to improve decision making capabilities of the deployment commanders, is great - but unless there is enough visibility and availability of data from all of the warfighting resources, you are losing fidelity of the picture of the entire situation. Commanders are taught to make decisions on available data - if your data is stuck in transit, you do not have a complete picture and may end up making inappropriate decisions.

And when you look at this sort of configuration with respect to the overall DoD/Federal Government push to move to a cloud-based architecture, how does this bit of infrastructure work within that framework?

What I can really see something like this being utilized for is in response to natural disasters or NBCR (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, Radiological) -type disasters.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
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