I was privileged to moderate an expert panel at this week’s recently concluded 7x24Exchange in Phoenix, AZ. Ken Timmons of Microsoft, Tim Cortes of PDI, Steve Wetter of Caterpillar, Sam Macrane of Chil-Pak, and Ken Baker of HPspent more than an hour addressing issues related to IT containers and modular construction.

Fortunately for me, 7x24Exchange insists that its panelists prepare discussion topics in advance. In this case, preparing questions in advance of the discussion alerted me to the idea that panelists would diverge from the published topic Data Center Containers Give End Users New Options. Our pre-conference discussions brought to light significant differences between products like those offered by HP and PDI that incorporate servers and those offered by Chil-Pak and Cat that provide either cooling and power to servers located elsewhere on the site. Timmons, as an end user, proved very helpful, when it came to differentiating between the IT container products and the modular construction products. Based on response, we must have succeeded at addressing audience concerns despite the schizophrenic nature of the panel.

Both Cortes and Macrane represented companies that introduced new products at the 7x24Exchange; both products were available for viewing just outside the venue. Accompanying any new product introduction is the idea that the manufacturer believes in the future of the product category. In this case, PDI obviously expects demand for IT containers to grow while Chil-Pak sees room for modular cooling. Similarly, I see other manufacturers introducing modular units or IT containers a stream of improvements made by early entrants to the field.

Ken Baker, representing HP, noted that IT containers had evolved significantly from early ISO container versions but that far from being the commoditized products initially envisioned by manufacturers, user requirements had turned these into custom solutions. He added that he expected customization demands to continue, not cease. In this way, the container IT solutions differed greatly from the modular power and cooling packages, which could be more easily address user needs using standardized products.

Differences between the two product categories permeated the discussion. In particular because the modular products contribute to facility reliability but the IT containers may be used to address system or enterprise availability. These differences reverberated throughout many topics raised throughout the discussion, including construction, design, site selection, and operations.

The panelists, however, also found that businesses using either modular products or IT containers would find common ground in site use, labor issues, tax treatment, and the importance of lifecycle considerations.

The panel covered much more in 75 minutes, as could be expected, and I hope to draw on these viewpoints in future issues of Mission Critical. Indeed the full 7x24Exchange conference often provides inspiration for topics we cover during the year.

I’m going to take a little time off from this blog for Thanksgiving, but I’ll reporting back with observations on another inspirational venue, DatacenterDynamics in Dallas, TX, which will be held on December 7th.