Felipe Reséndiz busts common myths and misconceptions surrounding prefabricated data centres
There are many misconceptions in our industry when it comes to the pros and cons of prefabricated data centres. The biggest single reason for this is that when people hear “prefabricated” they often immediately imagine a “containerised” solution. These long, narrow and relatively inflexible ISO container-based units are only one form of prefabricated facility though. Prefabricated data centres can come in many more flexible shapes and sizes and once built will often be indistinguishable from a traditionally constructed brick and mortar facility.
1) Design flexibility
Myth: Prefabricated data centres have fixed designs with space restrictions that limit the number of racks, prevent the use of an elevated floor and restrict the types of cooling that can be employed because they use ISO containers retrofitted as data centres.
Reality: Prefabricated data centres can be divided into two fundamental categories – those constructed with ISO containers and those that use larger modules. Containerised facilities do indeed have many of the restrictions mentioned above. However, module-based solutions are far more flexible and can be combined without internal walls to deliver infinitely configurable open white space. This flexibility allows prefabricated module-based data centres to be designed with the same degree of freedom as a traditional brick and mortar facility, but with significantly lower overall project risk and far greater utility than their containerized cousins. They can, therefore, be designed and built specifically for each individual customer’s precise needs.
2) Lifetime concerns
Myth: Prefabricated solutions have limited lifespans as their steel construction will rust, just as containers do that are commonly seen on trucks, ships or trains. So, they should only be used as temporary installations.
Reality: Any building, regardless of what it is built of, will be affected over time by structural issues if it is not appropriately constructed right from the start. It’s therefore critical to understand and prepare in advance for the environmental conditions that the data centre will be exposed to. For example, a C3 coating on a steel structure will protect it against medium corrosion risk in industrial and coastal areas, while a C5 coating will provide protection at sea or locations with extremely high levels of humidity and salinity. So, with appropriate protection in place, there is no reason why a prefabricated data centre cannot enjoy a lifetime of 40 years or more.
3) Thermal considerations
Myth: When prefabricated steel-based data centres are exposed to the sun, they can heat up inside and require an increase in cooling capacity, thus increasing PUE and the operational costs of the HVAC units.
Reality: Internal heat gain is a potential issue for all kinds of buildings and insulation is of course key. Flexenclosure’s prefabricated modular eCentre data centres are equipped with insulated walls that deliver a very high thermal protection, with a U-Value of 0.6 W/m2K that minimises heat gains inside the installation. The typical U-Value for a brick wall is 2.0 W/m²K and for a glass window it is around 2.8 W/m²K, so prefabricated data centres clearly be significantly more thermally efficient than a traditionally built facility.