The Pros and Cons of Containerization

Over the last couple of years, you might’ve noticed a slight fuss being made over container based data centers. Just like it says on the tin, these are boxes, commonly converted shipping containers, transformed into self-contained, modular data facilities.

The concept was interesting, but most people paid little attention until Microsoft opened its own Chicago-area datacenter which heavily relied upon these modular blocks.

Since then, enthusiasm has been steady. However, integration has occurred in fits and starts.

Use Cases for Container Data Centers

You might ask, with so many beautiful, state-of-the-art data centers available, why anyone would use an ugly old shipping container. In terms of usage, it’s like moving out of your beautiful Georgetown brownstone and into an old pop-up camper. It achieves the end of a roof over your head, at the expense of some convenience, ease of use, and durability. Not to mention aesthetics.

The analogy of living quarters has additional parallels. If you need more space, rather than finding a larger place, you might rent a storage unit. Particularly if you needed it immediately, or if the future was uncertain, or if you simply wanted to take your time as you shopped around for a bigger place. And of course, a camper trailer makes perfect sense if you need to move around a lot, or if you need to be in a place where there are no other accommodations. One of the most interesting use cases I came across was for military forces. Containerized data centers are mobile, and can be set up wherever the base is. I suppose that beats beautiful and state-of-the-art.

Most of the people who raved about containerized blocks used them as a temporary stage in the implementation of IT strategies. For instance, you can use them to accelerate release cycles, and then as your needs stabilize, move that infrastructure to a permanent home. This way you’re not continually renegotiating contracts with your data center, or holding onto more than you need, just in case.

Pros and Cons

The main benefit of containers is their self-containment. It follows that their main drawback is that they cannot achieve efficiency of scale that a true data center can. Moreover, data centers are designed with multiple redundancies in place. The container can only spare the space for the most likely needs.

Data centers are run by specialists. But containers don’t come with the specialists to run them. This means you will have to recruit one, or train one of your own employees. A recent survey showed that the majority of businesses who would like to use containers are struggling to find skilled employees capable of running them.

It seems that though containers have a time and place, they are not yet ubiquitous enough to be truly convenient. Container providers may need to step up and provide personnel as well as hardware in order to improve their integration into IT strategy.


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