Modular Data Centers: Solving Current And Future Capacity Requirements

Modular data centers offer multiple benefits for organizations looking to add new data center space at a rate that addresses actual capacity increases.

By Phil Rafferty

Companies in all industries need new data centers — whether the business is expanding rapidly, the data storage and processing needs are outgrowing existing facilities, or the company needs an edge data center, far from their own location and closer to where the data is generated. Yet, building a new data center is tricky. How big should it be in terms of physical space and computing power? Build to meet current needs and the data center will soon be at capacity and outdated. Build to meet expected future capacity and the data center is overbuilt now, with space and equipment sitting idle in the short term.

data centers
University of Texas, San Antonio data module installation. (Photo by Robert Binder)

It’s also costly and time consuming to build a data center. The project requires finding space, whether that’s a room within current facilities, a new existing structure to build out, or land to put up a new building; and then meeting all associated building code and occupancy requirements. The upfront investment is high, and it takes at least 18 to 24 months to see a return on that investment. Data center technology changes fast, and construction is a much slower process. For businesses looking to maximize their investment and add new data center space at a rate that addresses actual capacity increases, building a brand new data center isn’t the answer. A prefabricated modular data center is.

Modular data centers are growing in popularity as savvy businesses are turning to them to add capacity affordably – the modular data center industry was valued at $9.46 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach $34.99 billion by 2023.

Modular data centers are designed to meet all the basic needs of a data center:

  • All required infrastructure is built in, including cooling solutions, uninterruptible power supply, fire suppression, security, and monitoring systems.
  • Accommodation for hundreds of servers and can be delivered with IT components included.
  • Self-contained and protected from weather and any kind of environmental conditions
  • Smaller footprint than average data center because they are built with efficiency and portability in mind.
  • Flexible and expandable design based on IT and site requirements. Businesses can add modules as capacity needs expand whenever needed.
  • Energy efficient. One particular advantage of modular data centers is energy efficiency, because they are built with elements such as sealed floors and doors, overhead or under floor cooling. In addition to the physical design elements, they can be constructed with economizers that result in lower power and cooling needs.
  • Rapid deployment in 3 months or less for smaller units and 6 to 9 months for larger custom applications. Preassembled modules enable faster deployment as compared to the 18-24 months of a traditional data center project, enabling businesses to add capacity when needed.
  • Enhanced security. On-site modules maintain the IT infrastructure in your current location, where it’s already set up. Modules are built with redundancies to enable critical systems to operate even when key components require repair or maintenance.
  • Business continuity. Another benefit from adding capacity with a modular data center is continuous operations. There is no business interruption, or the costs associated with downtime, which can happen when relocating to a new space. The equipment is delivered ready to set up and turn on.

These modular data centers cost 20-30% less to build than a standard data center, when considering that modular solutions do not need to be oversized in anticipation of future growth and that the site can be configured to enable adding future modules as the business requires. Most data centers are overbuilt for physical size and infrastructure capacity. Additionally, with modular data centers the individual components and the building process are standardized. In addition to reduced capital expenditures (CAPEX) for building the center, modular solutions are designed with lower operating costs (OPEX) per rack. Another added cost-related advantage is the tax benefit, as the modular center is equipment rather than a structure, so companies can take equipment based depreciation on their investment.

When it’s time to expand data center capacity, there are several benefits to using a modular data center. For businesses who understand their current and anticipated future needs, a prefabricated modular solution provides control over costs, enables them to efficiently manage storage and processing capacity, and only pay for the space and computing power needed, when it is needed.

data centersPhil Rafferty, President and Co-Founder of Data Specialties Inc., has more than 30 years of experience in the data center business. Prior to co-founding DSI in 1991, he was the General Manager for a Los Angeles-based data center electrical contractor. In addition to running the company, Phil leads DSI’s key projects from design through completion. He also encourages the company’s efforts to expand its geographic presence.