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Opinion: Modular data centers mitigate colocation construction risks

25 Mar 2019

Article by Schneider Electric data center solution manager Matthew Tavares

In the fast-moving data center business, the formula for colocation providers’ on-going success consists of providing customers compute infrastructure that is quickly deployed, scalable and reliable, without compromising safety, quality or tying up excess cash flow.

The traditional “stick built” approach to constructing data centers – which involves many months of serial planning, scheduling, and inefficient construction cycles – is less realistic for staying competitive and meeting business demands.

In order to address these time-to-market and construction challenges, more and more colocation providers are turning to modern, modular data center approaches.

Also referred to as prefabricated modules or skids, the concept of modular building blocks of power, cooling and compute capacity has been around for more than a decade.

However, as business demands have evolved during the current era of the Internet of Things and Big Data, interest in these modular building blocks of data center architecture have increased.

These pre-assembled, factory tested modules can reside either inside or outside of a facility, and can be quickly deployed as either single or multiple modules, wherein a system of modules creates a large IT space.

Colocation providers ramp up modular data center investment

Here are the principal reasons why colocation providers are increasing their investment and decreasing their construction risk when deploying a modernized modular data center approach:

  • Speed of deployment – Construction work can now be executed in parallel, building facility walls and ceilings at the site while, at the same time, self-contained data halls (rows of racks within an enclosure), LV power enclosures are being assembled, wired, tested and commissioned in the factory. Once the modules are shipped to the site, the connection work is simple and fast. This parallel construction approach shrinks deployment times by almost 50% at a typical site (on average, what would normally take 6 months to a year, can take anywhere from 26 to 16 weeks).
  • Risk mitigation – During traditional data center builds, risk is high due to increased uncertainty, site conditions and the number of parties involved in the process. Tradesmen are impacted by each other’s schedules and time delays in the early project stages affect downstream efficiencies. This results in unanticipated change orders, increased probability of human safety issues, and cost overruns. On the other hand, modular data centers decrease risk with a pre-engineered, fully managed assembly approach. Factory experts work together on site as a team, performing repeatable tasks that have been fine-tuned to maximize safety and efficiency.

According to Chris Crosby, Founder and CEO of Compass Data Centers, a wholesale cloud service provider, noted in a recent webinar that: “A parallel path reduces scheduling and safety risk, it also enables standardization of processes and procedures. This reduces job site chaos and allows us to deliver product in 6 months or less.”

  • Standardization – Quality control is much easier in the factory than on a job site. Standardization in the factory greatly reduces onsite modifications. Standardization also allows for costs to be predictable as unanticipated site change orders are kept to a bare minimum. In contrast to custom-built field implementations, plans for future expansion are also greatly simplified as standardization breeds improved quality over time (the integration processes and procedures become more familiar).

Standardization also addresses the issue of inconsistent expertise in the labor force across geographies. Many cloud and service providers follow their clientele across the globe. If similar design, engineering and project plans are implemented by factory experts across the geographies, then deployment quality is more consistent and greatly simplified.

  • Flexibility – The prefabricated electrical room and data hall / IT modules can be configured in a multitude of size increments depending upon processing needs and physical space limitations. The modules themselves can be constructed to accommodate either indoor or outdoor environments (i.e., outdoor modules add value if there is little room in the building facility but plenty of room in the parking lot). The inherent modularity and standardization enable providers to scale their business in line with customer demand without tying up CAPEX and underutilized resources.

Enhanced modular data center architecture drive efficiencies

The newest offerings in modular data centers now incorporate the latest technologies that further enhance architecture efficiency.

These include the incorporation of lithium-ion batteries (for even bigger footprint and TCO savings), the latest high efficiency UPS technology (in order to further limit CO2 emissions and to reduce energy costs) and the latest software for monitoring, controlling and providing insightful analytics around the performance of your modular data center.

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