Eric Jensen, General Manager/Vice President, Data Aire, explores the growing relationship and connections between the proliferation of the prefab modular data center and thermal control.
They say marriage is a partnership – one built on trust, flexibility and shared goals. If that’s the case, precision cooling manufacturers and prefab data center or power module designers are a perfect match.
Together, these companies look for ways to seamlessly marry their solutions to meet the goals of the end user. They look to current technology advancements to help guide their strategy recommendations, as well as rely on the tried and true solutions that have supported the data center industry for years.
Let’s start with why some companies choose prefab modular systems. Sometimes geography dictates, or owners’ varied data center strategy lends itself to prefabrication. End-users sometimes find it more convenient to drop in a modular data center because shifting highly complex mechanical projects from the construction site to a controlled production environment may be more cost efficient, safer and faster. So, in these instances, building owners seek manufacturers of modular systems who focus on using all available white space for rack capacity and then collaborate with precision cooling experts like Data Aire.
What’s Driving the Increased Trend Toward Prefab Modular Solutions?
One trend we see is the increase in 4G penetration and an upcoming 5G wave that is further motivating telecom vendors to invest in the modular data center market. And Hyperscalers are deploying large, multi-megawatt modular solutions while others are deploying a single cabinet (or smaller) at the cell tower for 5G. With the growing number of connected devices, the distribution of high-speed data must get closer and closer to those devices at The Edge. That challenge is well-suited for modular solutions.
Keep in mind, the build-to-suit trend for modular solutions shifts significant portions of the project scope to the factory environment while allowing the site construction scope to run in parallel. And the build plan dictates that precision cooling design and installation needs to be at the front end of the build cycle, so it’s important to source a manufacturer that can develop build-to-suit solutions with speed to market.
Speed to market is not the only driver for implementing prefab modular data centers. Other primary drivers are flexibility in design/capacity, scalability, standardization, IT equipment lifecycles, and trying to stay ahead of the exponential growth in technology. Prefabricated and modular solutions can be scaled up in size “as and when” necessary, which allows operators to stage Capex investment over time. This also avoids the risk of construction projects taking place in “live” data centers. In order to streamline and improve operational efficiency, many operators are looking to standardize their data center portfolios. Prefabricated and modular solutions offer operators a common platform across their portfolios. It is difficult to build mission critical facilities for technology that has not yet been invented. Because tech life cycles can be as rapid as 18 months, an adaptable solution is custom designed, prefabricated and modular design. The growing use of internet services and connected devices due to AI, IoT, cloud services, etc. is accelerating the demand for smaller data centers at the edge, which is ideal for prefabricated and modular solutions.
You Have Options
While there is a spectrum of prefab/modular solutions, one size or shape doesn’t fit all. ISO shipping containers can provide a readily available, cost effective shell; however, they have fixed designs and are space-constrained — potentially limiting the number of racks that can be deployed. Depending on the end use, ISO containers may also require significant modifications for proper environmental management. Where ISO containers don’t meet the needs, purpose-built modules like those from Baselayer/IE, afford operators adequate space to maintain or swap equipment within the racks and manage the environment. These module-based solutions are more flexible and can be combined to deliver infinitely configurable open white space.
Scaling to the Customers’ Needs
No matter the space in question, it’s important to sit-down with customers and make them part of the planning equation — discussing their current and future density requirements as well as cooling strategies (whether chilled water, economizers or multiple CRAC units). It’s about partnering and understanding short and long-term goals — making sure to provide maintainable solutions for the end user.
And today, we’re living in an interesting time, when data centers (in the US and other parts of the world) are now considered essential businesses by governments. Being able to adapt technology to the ever-growing needs of data center owners is driving manufacturers to be more agile and develop scalable, built-to-suit solutions. The flexibility of design is imperative to provide the customer exactly what they need, whether for the space, the critical infrastructure, or the IT architecture. And when it comes to modular/prefab designs, prioritizing cooling strategies has become a crucial piece of the puzzle.
Eric Jensen is General Manager/Vice President at Data Aire.