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Cisco Plans Containerized Data Centers

The company sees an opportunity in modular, shipping container-based data centers in military, SaaS, and other markets.

Cisco Systems may soon be entering the containerized data center business, Cisco executives said in an interview Thursday.

If and when Cisco launches an official product, the company will join several vendors, including IBM, SGI (formerly Rackable), and Sun, that have begun in the last few years to sell containerized data centers, which pack servers, storage, and networking equipment into standard shipping containers.

Cisco has long been selling pieces of containerized data centers to the military through systems integrators, but with the company now selling servers in addition to network equipment, it has the product line in place to get into the containerized data center business.

"We're looking at a model of building a Cisco container -- with a Cisco part number -- that will contain the unified computing platform," said Bruce Klein, Cisco's U.S. public sector senior VP.

Cisco equipment also already sits inside containerized data centers built by other vendors, as well as inside NASA's Nebula data center container, which houses Unified Computing System blade servers. The Unified Computing System is the piece Cisco needed to put its own stamp on a container.

The military only last week ordered 150 containerized data centers loaded with Cisco equipment, which are headed straight for war zones overseas.

Cisco also recently posted a brochure about what it calls the Cisco Containerized Data Center on its Web site, claiming 50% savings in capital expenses and 30% savings in operating expenses (but the document doesn't give a point of comparison for savings).

According to Kevin Orr, director of defense operations for Cisco's U.S. public sector business, when the company first started working with systems integrators to put together containerized data centers, the integration process took up to 18 months. Now, turnaround can be as quick as two weeks from order to delivery. "The only question we have now is, how many trailers do you want, for how long, and how far do you want them to go," Orr said.

Organizations with high scalability and mobility needs are the obvious target. Containerized data centers have been used in the past, for example, for disaster recovery. In addition to the military, Orr noted that containerized data centers could be an excellent entry point for software-as-a-service providers. "Think about the data center cost versus a container cost," he said.

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