By building smart prefabricated data centres, initial capital and ongoing operational costs can be kept in check, allowing operators to efficiently and profitably deliver the data-rich services their customers are increasingly demanding
New video streaming services, live networked gaming applications, the ongoing expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicle developments, the rollout of 5G and the general global increase in digitalization are all creating significant new demands on the Internet. And in particular on the availability of data centre capacity to store and process large amounts of data much closer to the end users (“at the edge”).
For Internet infrastructure, this means a shift in focus from using relatively few hyperscale data centres to using many more edge data centres of smaller size. Of course, the term edge will mean different things to different people. For a large international colocation company, edge can mean entering new markets with data centres of 2-5MW in size. Meanwhile, edge for a mobile operator can mean placing small 100kW sized micro data centres together with 5G telecom base stations. Independent of definition though, the smaller scale and larger number of edge data centres that are and will be increasingly deployed around the world will bring significant new challenges.
Capital and operational cost hurdles
First, the capital cost to build data centres (per MW) will always be higher for smaller scale builds than for larger facilities, thus increasing the challenge to achieve a positive business case. This is important as companies operating data centres typically get paid by clients based on the megawatts of IT hosted. Capital costs can potentially be managed in part by reducing technical redundancy, with less power and cooling equipment installed. However, there are obvious risks associated with this approach, which is why many data centre operators are now looking at deploying edge facilities using custom-designed mass-produced prefabricated data centres.