IO Conducts PUE Faceoff: Modular vs. Raised Floor

IO Phoenix

A row of IO Anywhere data center modules at the IO Phoenix facility. (Photo: IO)

Which delivers the best energy efficiency: raised-floor space or a modular data center? It’s a hard question to answer in a satisfying fashion without comparing apples and oranges. What about a comparison of modules and raised-floor space within a single facility, using the same building envelope and chiller plant, with the data reviewed by a third party?

IO had exactly this situation in its IO Phoenix facility, which is split between an initial phase of raised-floor data center space and a second phase filled with the company’s IO.Anywhere modules. So IO asked the local utility, Arizona Public Service (APS) to review 12 months of data for both environments and calculate their respective operating costs and Power Usage Efficiency (PUE).

The result? APS found the modular design offered significant improvements in efficiency and economics. The utility said the raised-floor area within IO Phoenix had a PUE of 1.73 for 2012, while the modular data center environment had a PUE of 1.41. That difference translates into an annual savings of $200,000 per megawatt of average IT power for customers using the IO.Anywhere modular build-out instead of the raised floor space at IO.

“Our calculations did show that the IO.Anywhere modular data center uses less energy than a traditional data center build-out, at least in the case of this IO data center” said Wayne Dobberpuhl, APS Energy Efficiency Program Manager. “Moving forward, we are working with IO to establish the right baseline for assessing the appropriate rebate for this efficiency work under our Solutions for Business program.”

Customer Analysis Focuses on Operating Costs

IO has a clear perspective in this debate, as the company readily admits. “Our actions have long spoken to our faith in the modular design,” said Patrick Flynn, the Lead Sustainability Strategist for IO.

But Flynn said the data will be “exceptionally valuable” to enterprises pondering the best deployment option and evaluating modular units. He noted the importance of having Arizona Public Service provide an independent analysis of the potential energy savings.

Operating costs have become a focal point in comparisons between traditional hot aisle/cold aisle data centers and modular offerings like IO.Anywhere, that are built in a factory using repeatable designs and can be shipped to a customer premise or provider facility. A 2012 study from 451 Research found that modular data centers are usually cheaper to build than traditional raised-floor space, but said the economics of the two deployment models were complex and didn’t stake out a position on the OpEx economics of the two models.

In analyses with many moving parts, proponents of each approach have found support in PUE, the energy efficiency metric popularized by The Green Grid that compares a facility’s total power usage to the amount of power used by the IT equipment, revealing how much is lost in distribution and conversion. The average PUE is about 1.8.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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