The Area Development Frontline series offers insight into successful, innovative strategies taken by businesses; intelligence on locations that are deploying winning policies that attract investment and talent; and reports on industry trends that affect and shape the global business climate now and in the future.For two decades, the data center industry approached every project as a unique problem. Each new data center began as a clean slate upon which builders tailored a facility to the specific needs of the customer. It was a time- and resource-intensive task that impeded efficiency and flexibility. Now, times are changing.
A push to reduce data center construction and operating costs is leading more businesses to look for alternatives to traditional methods. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency predicts that data center energy consumption will rise from 61 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2006 - or 1.5 percent of total U.S. energy consumption - to approximately 100 billion kWh in 2011. As energy costs swell and businesses adapt to the volatile economy, attitudes towards data centers are catching up with the times.
Modular Data Centers
The phrase "modular data center" first surfaced about five years ago. Even now, "modular" evokes the image of shipping containers, which comprised the first generation of modular data centers. However, current designs use pre-manufactured buildings, standardized components, and repeated building blocks. This approach reduces data center construction time from up to 24 months into a product acquisition with a five- to seven-month lead time.
Unlike a traditional data center built by a construction team, a modular data center is built in a factory. This decreases upfront costs up to 40 percent and significantly reduces the time to market. It also facilitates increased standardization, improved supply chain management, and the utilization of economies of scale.
Think of the process like ordering a pizza. All pizzas begin with the same basic ingredients - dough, sauce, and cheese - but are made to order by combining toppings. Companies that produce modular data centers customize each client's request to order and deliver the finished product.
Reducing Complexity, Increasing Flexibility
Data centers are being increasingly viewed holistically as places where facilities and IT unite as a highly efficient, integrated tool. The modular approach reduces complexity, as well as the technical risk of operating separate systems. It also provides an opportunity to optimize the core components of a data center, including cable routing, cooling, power management, and building management systems. The modular design allows data center owners to grow capacity with demand by adding modules of server room space, cooling, and power.
The popularity of modular data centers reflects their relevance to the concerns of CIOs and CFOs. Now and for the future, it's all about the bottom line. In an environment where power costs can no longer be an afterthought, C-level executives find increased efficiency with modular data centers. Meanwhile, the reduced time schedule and flexibility allows companies to adapt to ever-changing technologies. Building capacity as needed - instead of developing it now in anticipation of future needs - means that companies no longer have to worry about over-building.
But the best aspect of treating a data center as a plug-and-play product is pricing certainty, which almost always results in satisfied executives.