DCK Guide To Modular Data Centers

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The data center of the future is letting go of long-held traditions for design, with modular products and providers ushering in a new era.  A modular data center is an approach that implies the use of a factory-built module or a method for delivering data center infrastructure in a modular fashion.  These modular solutions takes the best ideas for design, reliability and efficiency and package them into a prefabricated, repeatable and operationally optimized module.

What is Modular?

Performing an image search on the Internet for a data center will result in a wide assortment of designs used in the past. The architectural, mechanical and electrical designs for data centers have typically been an open book.  They were an open book to match existing IT requirements and an attempt to anticipate what requirements will be for the next 10 to 15 years.

The concept of a modular data center solution has eluded definition, if not comprehension.  Through the short history of modular solutions and vendor marketing, a definition and categorization of solutions has emerged.

container is a data center product incorporating customized infrastructure to support power or cooling infrastructure, or racks of IT equipment. Containers are built using an ISO (International Standards Organization) intermodal shipping container. 

Modular is an approach to data center design that implies either a prefabricated data center module or a deployment method for delivering data center infrastructure in a modular, quick and flexible method.

Modular Solutions

To build on terminology that has grown around container and modula,r Jason Schafer from The 451 Group categorized the types of modular solutions available.  Of the four categories, only three met the definition for modular. The fourth type, a phased approach, may be conceived of as modular in that it is built-out gradually, but is not truly modular. The remaining three types of modular data centers consist of 1) Container, 2) Modular components and 3) modular providers.

Modular 1.0

A number of innovations marked the beginnings of the modular products and ideas:

  • APC’s InfraStruXure Express – a data center on wheels
  • Google experimented with a container full of IT, parked in an underground parking garage.  They even went so far as to propose a floating data center on cargo ships.
  •  In 2006 Sun Microsystems unveiled project Blackbox, an energy-efficient, water-cooled turnkey data center housed in a shipping container.
  • In 2008 Microsoft announced that its new Chicago data center would house up to 220 shipping containers.

After the early development of containers, theories evolved and the hype cycle played out for a data center in a box. Numerous hardware vendors, independent companies and data center providers embraced the modular concept and presented their own engineered solution.

The Data Center Knowledge Guide to Modular Data Centers will explore:

New installments of The Guide to Modular Data Centers will be posted in coming days. Bookmark this page to access the entire series.

The entire Guide to Modular Data Centers white paper can be downloaded here, courtesy of IO.

About the Author

John Rath is a veteran IT professional and regular contributor at Data Center Knowledge. He has served many roles in the data center, including support, system administration, web development and facility management.

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3 Comments

  1. PVD purchased the original APC ISX Express for a client to meet DR requirements for regional hospital. Today PVD has developed a truly "self contained" mobile data center that has onboard dual chilled water plants in redundant configuration to cool up to 120 KW of server capacity. This is the flag ship product for the MCIE (Modular Critical Infrastructure Enclosure) Portfolio. The latest design includes free cooling via water side economizer to reach PUEs less than 1.1. Inquire also PVD Server and Power MCIE Solutions.

  2. 20 FT container Data Cenetr container is part of the needs we have; external powe rsource generator is available but integrated UPS is needed Cooling and raised floor as wll s space for 4 x42 U CAbiners with storage . network and Servers meeded need to ensure dust free environment

  3. Adam Smith

    Toni might take a look at the Datapod System out of Australia, but available in the US. Complete site infrastructure, expandable modular DC range, pre-fiited out with APC's ISX.