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Modular Data Centers Have Their Place
Many different kinds of businesses can find the right modular data center for their needs.
What types of companies are best suited to modular data centers? When should they choose this option?
Shawn T. Reichart, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Principal, RTKL & Associates
Question Originally Asked Here:
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I believe modular data center design concepts can really be used in all data centers for all types of companies. RTKL has been including “plug and play” modular concepts in our work since 2004. We always design the chilled water lines with extra capacity, taps, and valves for additional cooling options. We take a similar approach with electrical, power distribution, and UPS systems. We have encouraged the use of pre-packaged mechanical and electrical systems that can be delivered to the site in exterior enclosures or large flat skids.

Other people use the term “modular” to refer to a “containerized modular” data center. Microsoft and others large users have deployed this concept. Several large computer providers like HP and Oracle provide an off-the-shelf containerized solution. These solutions often still require separate chilled water and redundant power sources. This diversified approach makes sense for large national or global companies that have intensive web-based applications. These “containerized modular” data centers are remotely located near the users but are not very redundant. If they go down, the traffic is routed around the problem node.

I believe the fully modular and containerized solutions makes the most sense at two scales. The global/national Web-based company makes sense because they can put in a PO for a new data center and a few weeks later they have it sitting on a slab in Costa Rica supporting Web-based applications at a responsible speed to the end user.

The other beneficial use for this technology is to support rapid or temporary growth with limited resources. RTKL has seen many hospitals in a situation where growth of electronic medical storage is quickly expanding beyond the capacity of their small data centers. In many cases, they have plans for a new larger data center project but lack the funding and/or time to wait for it to come online. Containerized modular data centers work great to solve this problem. Because most hospital campuses contain a central plant chilled water system and generators, containerized modular data centers are simply connected to these existing sources and to the hospital’s network and are up and running. The modular containerized solution is hard for medium-sized enterprise data centers. These containers have access and personnel issues associated with them. To perform routine maintenance and upgrades typically means going outside and up stairs to access each containerized unit.
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