The Stack Archive Expert View

Data Centre Design & Build – Modular

Fri 9 Oct 2015 | Kevin Brown

Modular future?

The data centre has changed significantly down the years and it is now clear that in the right circumstances there are benefits of a scalable, modular data centre architecture. This gives the ability to “right-size” the data centre and have it grow with the business, making sure capital is only spent when necessary. DCM spoke to Kevin Brown of Schneider Electric, (below) who looks at the modular approach of data centre design and how business can benefit.


Are modular data centres becoming more popular?

There is certainly a trend in the UK towards modular data centres, so the short answer is yes. A lot of the initial thinking on modular data centres has come from the UK. There is no question that modular is a hot bed of interest and activity in prefab.

Is there a type of industry that better suits a modular data centre, or can it be adapted for all data centre providers?

A modular data centre is a tool that you can use to solve a problem. There are different reasons why organisations want a modular data centre. For example in the oil and gas industry a data centre needs to be deployed as it is impossible to do a normal build. It needs to be rugged as they are going into environments that are less ideal for data centres. There is a big effort to make the data centre transportable and have as the minimum amount of on-site construction. Another reason for modular is in the healthcare market, where they need capacity, but there is no space inside the building and they don’t want a construction project. A third category which co-lo’s play into, is where speed of deployment is necessary and a standardised approach is necessary. We always look at the problem that a customer is trying to solve and then we can give them the best solution.


What are the main benefits of a modular data centre?

There are three main reasons for going modular. Firstly, flexibility and scalability, meaning you can add IT space, power and cooling capacity as needed, adopting a pay-as-you-grow model rather than paying up front for capacity that may not be used for years. Secondly you can get dramatically faster deployment times. This is quite important, as by deploying a prefabricated data centre rather than opting for a traditional or ‘stick built’ DC, you can dramatically reduce your data centre deployment time from months to weeks. Finally, predictability and performance. It is possible to guarantee the power use effectiveness (PUE) factor of a prefabricated data centre as hundreds have been made. All testing is done in the factory, to ensure components are performing to specification, which you gives the customer the predictability they’ve paid for.


Do you see a time when all new data centres will be modular?

Not really. We see up to around 20 per cent of the market will be modular, but it will never be the majority of the market. Not all sites can take modular data centres. What drives people to sites is where can they get the bandwidth and the power. From that point they will then decide on the best approach for them.


What are the main drivers for implementation of modular data centres?

I still think that we are at an early point in the evolution of the modular data centre, but the main drivers are speed of deployment and predictable performance. There is a lot of rhetoric that says that modular data centres are less expensive, but they do not save that much money and you are getting other benefits including speed of deployment and a predictable PUE. You are also taking a lot of chaos out of the build as you are building the data centre in a factory, not onsite. As the market develops, greater volumes will mean more standardisation and there will also be an impact on lead times. At the moment it is around 16 weeks, but with some compromise I believe this could go down to 8 weeks, but we are not quite there yet., but this will happen in the next 18 months.

We are looking forward at providing even more value to customers. For co-lo’s this could also be important as if we can halve their lead time it will enable them to mange their capital better. Co-lo’s need to have their data centres up and running quickly as they need to be earning money on their investment.


What have been the main leaps forward in building data centres in the past couple of years and what is the future of data centre design and build?

Until recently data centres were designed by IT departments separately to facility departments. I believe that there has to be no separation between these two departments if you want greater data centre efficiency. It has to be designed with the physical infrastructure. As we move towards the software defined data centre, it’d going to drive a wave of design that is a meeting of IT and facilities. Another factor is that there has been the idea that raising data centre temperatures will save energy. What doesn’t get mentioned is if you raise the data centre temperature you also increase the cost of IT energy consumption, so it’s a lot more complicated than people seem to think it is.

I tell people when looking at data centres that you have to be looking at your IT policies as well as your physical design as that’s the only way to improve the energy efficiency of data centres.

We have to continue to drive data centres to be more energy efficient and improve capital utilisation.


Do you still see the data centre market growing?

There will be no slowdown on the desire for IT performance. If you look at mobile devices, streaming video, IoT, smart homes, these are all coming onto the IT network. There is no end to the desire to have automation and consumption, therefore, the demand for scalable and efficient data centres will remain strong.


This article was also published in the 2015 Data Centre Managers Buyers Guide alongside the Data Centre Design and Build Category

Experts featured:

Kevin Brown

SVP Innovation and CTO Secure Power Division
Schneider Electric

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