That's the metaphor CNET's Ina Fried used in describing Mr. Softy's latest data center plan recently, and she's right. Mobile computing facilities ought to be fancier than this. Instead, they look like metallic white shipping containers. Tie a few together, and you've got a mobile data center that looks like a trailer park.
"Once built, the units can be placed inside a large building or when equipped with outer protective panels, they can reside out in the open and be linked together to build out an entire datacenter," writes Kevin Timmons in this blog post. Timmons is Microsoft's general manager for data center services.
Don't let the visual fool you. These ITPAC containers, as Microsoft calls them, pack a mishmash of computing, storage, and networking equipment. Each container is capable of housing 400 to 2,500 servers, cooled by ambient air and a single water hose. Timmons says tests show ITPACs can be assembled in four days. Call it cloud computing, gone portable.
But this idea also isn't new. In 2007, Google obtained a patent for "modular data centers with modular components," which translated means "data center in a box." Sun Microsystems has demonstrated similar technology in years past, as has IBM
Nevertheless, the point remains. The fast, mostly wireless, and browser-accessible infrastructure being built today is akin to the highway infrastructure build-out that kicked off in 1956 with President Eisenhower's signing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act. Ford and General Motors prospered in the years following.
For the cloud, Google is already Ford. Microsoft, with its data centers, hopes to be GM. Betting on either right now could produce decades of healthy investing profits.
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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of IBM and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Life is a highway for the Fool's disclosure policy.