Modularity for all! The data centres you actually want to build

Democratising the build out of racks

This is the end (or is it?)

Before virtualisation took hold, when tin took up far more space than it does now, it paid dividends to be able to expand your physical capacity outwards. I’ve worked in data centres in the past where the “end” of the building has been built as entirely removable to allow for such expansion.

The exterior end wall would be removed, and the data centre would literally eat into the car park by thirty, sixty feet at a time, to add space for another three or four-dozen racks.

Then the exterior wall was replaced, and the data hall was extended to occupy the internal space. When virtualisation really took hold and the hardware requirements shrunk, the data centre shrunk back down again. The car park was reclaimed for the staff once more.

Modifying a data centre in place was not an insignificant undertaking, though, and could be almost as disruptive, time-consuming and costly to re-engineer as it took to build in the first place. Enter the prefabricated, modular data centre.

If you’ve got the space to install it, access to the power required to run it and water required to cool it, and aren’t subject to any local authority planning restrictions, you could have a fully-functional data centre delivered on the back of a truck and installed in a day.

The pre-packaged bundles of compute power are great if you need a specific boost or a portable project, but as you can see from the evolution in density a prefabricated data centre or a data centre based on modular blocks can challenge the traditional bricks-and-mortar built alternative.

A modular approach has an added advantage. It means repetition of architecture, which leads to significantly reduced installation times and component costs, as it’s much cheaper to only have to build one type of data centre, regardless of the install.

Take a company like Schneider Electric, who have been building and retrofitting data centres in the traditional way for years. Schneider now offers a prefabricated package, based on the APC SmartShelter platform, that lets them to throw a complete data centre pretty quickly.

If you want to retrofit a data hall into some empty space, that’s fine – the APC SmartShelter units can be installed indoors, occupying a whole building or tucked into a warehouse or basement. If you want a greenfield build, that’s fine too – such units can live outside, too.

Until now, it's North America that's seen uptake of prefabricated modular data centers. Most growth, too, has come from a handful of large projects typically served by major vendors, not smaller projects and smalller vendors, according to 451.

But, if we’ve learned anything from Sun, HP, IBM and from Schneider – developing and buying, it’s that the future is dense – smaller, more powerful, less power hungry. And if the future is dense, it’s modular, too. ®

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