Have You Ever Considered a Modular Data Center?
At a recent internal meeting I proposed the question: Would you buy a pair of shoes that were made in a factory or from a ‘cobbler’ (e.g. independent craftsman)? Needless to say, this caused some hilarity amongst my colleagues, but the question has been applied to all forms of consumer goods ever since the 1850’s from baked beans to cars. The answer is – it depends and it could go either way based on the need for customization or preference of hand-made goods. When goods are made by a group of experts carrying out repetitive tasks, in a controlled environment, they are usually less expensive to produce and the product quality is consistent. For hand-crafted goods, your shoes for example, you might have slight variations and they may be more expensive because of the time and personal attention needed to hand-craft them. This analogy is reflective of the choices CIOs have when deciding whether to start from scratch in building a data center or to choose a modular solution.
In both cases learning, training and experience are always necessary.
Advantages of choosing modular
In fact, data centres have been made in a modular format for a number of years, from a number of vendors, as there are many attractive advantages. But let’s define modular first: “A manufacturing construction method to enable quick assembly of a complete structure, complete with all its services, in sections, within a controlled environment, that is then relocated to its permanent location”.
Normally the fabric for technical buildings is steel, but many fabrics can be used.
So why modular?
1. Build Speed – maybe this is the most attractive feature for clients. In fact, the modules can be designed, fabricated, assembled, fitted out and wired (both electrically and with communications cabling) while the foundations are being constructed on the client’s site. Air conditioning and electrical systems are all included and wired. Modules can even be fitted with toilets and just bolted together on site. Think about it! – A project build that is no longer affected by weather or dependant on gangs of tradespeople all working together in a small space to achieve the end goal.
2. Quality – No longer is the quality of a project dependant on gangs of people who have never worked together before and who have never co-ordinated their functions before.
3. Fixed Price – Once the project is defined and agreed upon, the price can be agreed. The components are known, the build time is defined, transport costs are calculated and the client has a fixed price, a big advantage over a traditional build where many factors can affect the timeline of a build and therefore the final costs.
In fact there is another cost advantage with a modular build, if you are unsure of the size or capacity of your prospective data centre. With the ‘add-on’ approach, and the appropriate design, you can add modules to an existing build as your demand grows over time. So it is common for each module to be equipped with electrical distribution, that “plugs in” to the main system, independent standalone cooling systems, all with redundancy built in.
Each module can be equipped with the latest security features so that each module can be managed or staffed by independent organisations. Providing the cooling and electrical systems are identical, the site maintenance provider can service and “fault find” outside of the data space, if that is the design, on an individual module with ease.
Of course, vendors such as Emerson know their products and can incorporate all the latest technological techniques into a build and with one of the world’s largest teams of technical personnel, any client special requirements can be designed and delivered. So telephone exchanges, sub stations, combined UPS and generator enclosures, Solar Power transfer stations, cable distribution hubs, temporary data processing modules and even portable buildings are all possible.
Tier structures and PUe (or other metrics) can easily be designed into a modular system and it is much easier to modify or change parameters to amend PUe in a small module rather than a large hall. Using the modular build approach, almost anything is possible. So if you need a generator within the build, or a DC supply for your solar farm, or a telephone exchange and then want to combine this with a concrete render, or a terracotta tile exterior, flat roof, tiled roof, metal roof any combination is achievable. Even workshops and offices can be incorporated, complete with chairs desks and coffee machines!
But maybe the biggest benefit of a modular construction is the fact that it can be built at the factory, then tested and signed off by the client before his foundations are completed! Remember that this is with all the racks wired (in the case of a data centre) all the cooling or fresh air units working. Offsite testing must be the biggest selling point you see what you get and prove it before it leaves the factory.
However it should be noted that modular cannot fit every situation. The main constraints are transport costs together with transport size and weight constraints. The cheapest form of transport (in the EU) is the standard 24 tonne three axle trailer forming the 40 tonne articulated truck. Within the EU directive 96/53/EC provides the relevant data for height and width constraints on the EU road network. As soon as you design a modular section that goes over these constraints the cost increases, as special trucks are required, with special teams to supervise movement. It is also important to obtain the best value for transport money by designing in the best weight and size ratio to a truck load. So if an area within the modular build is empty the best design might be to flat pack the walls, roof and floors, stack them on a truck and assemble them on site, rather than assemble them into four walls and a floor as a rigid construction.
Remember the shoes? Well just think – you try them on in the shop before taking them home! Just like an Emerson modular construction technical building!
Learn more about modular data centers by watching the video of the T-Systems project.