Bringing Agility to Data Center Infrastructure

By: Lucas Beran

Data center physical infrastructure (DCPI) manufacturers are increasingly citing labor inefficiencies in data center construction, pressuring margins and inhibiting product shipments. Whether caused by COVID lockdowns or disruptions related to supply chains, new data center construction and modernization work now requires additional site visits to complete projects. Thus, already complex and congested construction schedules must be modified, ultimately leading to delays and extra work for everyone involved. And with pandemic-induced digital transformation driving all-time high demand for data center services, as well as DCPI vendors sitting on record backlogs, the timing could not be worse. That’s why in navigating this unique environment, the data center industry is increasingly installing prefabricated modular data centers (PMDCs).

PMDC solutions pre-integrate data center infrastructure in ISO containers or similarly constructed modules. While PMDCs are highly customizable to fit a wide range of applications and deployment scenarios, they can be segmented into three different types of solutions: all-in-one, IT and physical infrastructure (also referred to as facility) modules.

All-in-one modules are the simplest form of a PMDC. These modules are integrated with IT (compute, networking and storage) and physical infrastructure (power and thermal management) to provide a holistic, all-in-one data center solution. When an all-in-one PMDC is delivered, it is as a “plug and play” solution, which simplifies installation and reduces the need for on-site expertise in data center construction and management. No additional infrastructure is required, with the PMDC being operational in days if not hours after delivery.

IT and physical infrastructure modules are more specialized than all-in-one modules. IT and physical infrastructure modules deliver a single element of data center infrastructure and require on-site integration with the infrastructure of a stick-built facility (brick and mortar) or integration of both IT and physical infrastructure modules. An IT module delivers pre-integrated IT infrastructure, or the “white space” of a data center, while a physical infrastructure module delivers critical power to support the IT infrastructure. IT modules are always delivered in completely enclosed modules to control and secure the operating environment of the IT infrastructure. The enclosure can be an ISO container form factor, which is easy to transport. Due to size limitations, though, most PMDCs use custom-sized enclosures that are similar in look and feel to an ISO container. Similarly, physical infrastructure modules can be shipped in enclosures, but for additional flexibility in operation and maintenance access, they are just as often mounted on a skid for integration.

Speed to deployment, scalability and sustainability

The primary benefit of deploying a PMDC is accelerating speed to deployment. Traditional stick-built data center construction can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months. A PMDC deployment can significantly reduce that time to six to nine months, because the construction and integration of data center infrastructure happens off-site, in a factory controlled and designed for PMDC construction. Pulling cables, mechanical and electrical integration, and testing is also done off-site. There are no weather delays or competing schedules of different construction crews, safety is increased in a factory environment, and the risk of failures is reduced.

PMDCs are also highly scalable and repeatable, enabling data center deployments to occur as demand grows. It is notoriously difficult to forecast data center capacity requirements, particularly when looking at capacity needs toward the end of a data center’s life cycle. Even the most sophisticated cloud and colocation data center service providers can fall tens or even hundreds of megawatts (MWs) short on capacity if market dynamics outpace expectations. Conversely, when demand for data center services falls, service providers can be stuck with overcapacity, driving down prices of cloud and colocation data center services. Thus, the combination of speed to deployment and the scalability benefits of PMDCs allows for right-sizing data center deployments based on today’s needs, with the capability of scaling to meet future


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