This article is part one of a five-part series by Stephen Madaffari, Principal of Data Centers Delivered, on the process by which businesses considering modular data center options should properly evaluate, review and implement solutions. (See also part two, part three, part four and part five of this series.)
With the convergence of social, mobile and cloud information, many companies ranging from midsize regional businesses to large multisite enterprises have seen an upsurge in their data usage for everything from data storage to online commerce. Last year, mobile-data traffic alone was nearly 18 times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000, according to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast.
Given this data boom, the need for standardization, predictability and scalability are now critical drivers for many growing companies, making modular data centers the go-to option to cope with rapidly expanding data needs.
Modular data centers have become a common solution to growing demand faced by businesses today. Before this surge of interest in modular solutions, many builders and designers argued against modular solutions, citing design restrictions and an inability to customize infrastructure for the owner’s needs. Now, however, most are rethinking that position and giving weight to the many benefits of modular data centers and their singular ability to meet all of an owner’s requirements.
Today, maximizing storage and computing power is an absolute necessity regardless of the company or industry. Though previously overshadowed by containerized and field-built options, a modular data center is one of the most versatile and cost-saving investments any manager can make for his or her business.
Modular data centers are designed to uniquely support the specific requirements of a business while preserving its options for future growth. This flexibility allows IT managers to design for current needs and align company needs with its available budget. In contrast, data centers constructed on site require businesses to guess future needs during the initial project build or expand to accommodate for new spaces—a process that takes longer, disrupts ongoing operations and incurs wasteful spending.
Data center modules built off site in a factory setting provide for a predictable manufacturing process. This process, which can be replicated over and over, increases reliability, speeds up manufacturing and ensures each module is ready when required. In contrast, field-built data centers, even those built from identical plans, have some degree of variability as construction crews and processes change.
Along with predictability, modular data centers built by experts using consistent and repeatable processes in a factory setting result in quality control that is difficult to match by traditional construction methods on site. New construction can be subject to delays and interruptions caused by outside elements, which can potentially drive up costs. Off-site construction in a factory setting virtually eliminates costly delays. Additionally, material and labor costs for future build-outs are more predictable using a factory approach, which allows for more-accurate budgeting.
Is Modular Right for You?
Modular data centers offer a technical solution to the challenge of rapid growth in a data-driven marketplace. They deliver capacity through a streamlined deployment model that ensures standardization, cost efficiency and resiliency.
But just as one size doesn’t really fit all, the modular model is not an appropriate solution for every company. Multiple issues should be considered, but for those evaluating modular, the benefits are many and varied, such as custom systems, design repeatability, energy efficiency and even potential tax savings.
- Customization. Many companies in the same industry have unique technical requirements for their data centers that off-the-shelf products can’t meet without some type of customization. Modular data centers are thoroughly customized to the customers’ specific needs. Factors such as maintenance and access, cooling systems, and electrical and mechanical control systems must be taken into account. Though power and ventilation systems, walls, and floors are built using standardized processes, data systems are installed according to unique customer requirements.
- Repeatability. Whether adding to an existing data center or establishing a facility at a different geographical location, modular data centers enable owners to duplicate proven designs for new deployments. Selecting a design identical to that used at other sites and manufacturing the module in the same factory by the same team decreases variability and ensures system compatibility from site to site. Repeating the design also exploits the corporate knowledge of a company’s own data management team, which will already be familiar with previous modular data system installations and operations.
- Energy efficiency. One data center can use enough electricity to power 180,000 homes, according to various media reports. So as energy costs rise, power consumption has become an important consideration in every type of data center design. The biggest energy draw is the IT equipment, so ideally energy usage by cooling systems, lights, electricity and mechanical systems should be kept at the lowest possible level. Decisions should not be made on the basis of energy efficiency alone. Attention must be paid to effectively meeting a company’s data requirements. Modular data centers, unlike their containerized counterparts, are 100% customizable, so technical requirements and energy usage can be considered and addressed in tandem.
- Tax advantages. Modular data centers are typically considered assets rather than capital property, allowing them to depreciate faster than a traditional site-build data center. Depreciation on any asset is deducted from a company's profit before income taxes are assessed, so by being able to depreciate a data center as an asset over 7 to 10 years instead of as real property, which depreciates at a much slower rate, a company will incur higher depreciation costs and thus a lower tax burden.
Getting Ready to Go
Often overshadowed by containerized and field-built options, modular data centers are a versatile, cost-saving approach that growth-oriented companies should seriously consider.
Ultimately, the decision to invest in any data center option should be made on the amalgamation of many considerations including the facility size, expansion plans, location, repeatability, customization and so on. The factor that should carry the most weight, however, is a long-term plan for the overall IT architecture.
If selected as the most viable solution, planning and implementing a modular model should not be rushed or added to a construction project at the last moment. Facility owners should engage a qualified modular consultant early in the design process so all potential technical options can be assessed and preparations can begin to procure the right data center to meet their data-management needs.
The best results happen when the owner, company technical experts, designers, construction team and the qualified modular consultant work together to build a well-conceived and well-planned data center that fulfills the needs of today and preserves future growth.
In the next installment of this series, “Writing the Right RFP,” Stephen will discuss how to write an effective request for proposal (RFP) to generate cost-efficient and technically sound bids for your new modular data center solution.
Leading article image courtesy of 123net
About the Author
Stephen C. Madaffari is a principal with Data Centers Delivered and concurrently serves as a principal for HTS New York, a leading HVAC manufacturer’s representative firm that collaborates with parent company Epsilon Industries. He began his career as a sales engineer with Trane, where he helped develop and build a successful sales and turnkey construction business. Stephen also was a partner in a real-estate development company that sourced, procured and sold development packages to major construction development companies. One of his key milestones was arranging private equity and acquiring financing for and assisting in the sales of about $25 million in private housing. Stephen earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Louisiana State University.