Considerations for Data Center Owners When Partnering With Modular Builders

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This is the second part of a three-part series by Stephen Madaffari, Principal of Data Centers Delivered, on how various sectors of the business serving the data center industry can effectively partner with modular data center construction companies to achieve success. The first part was previously published, titled Four Things Colos Should Consider When Evaluating Modular Construction Solutions.

Stephen MadaffariSTEPHEN MADAFFARI
Data Centers Delivered

As modular construction of data centers gains more mainstream acceptance in the industry, it is important to keep in mind how data center owners engage and work with different modular data center builders. The data center industry has vastly diverse offerings and often use alternate meanings of the word “modularity.” This article is intended to help guide owners through the process of partnering with a modular construction provider to ensure they achieve their desired product outcome and return on investment from a modular builder.

Levels of Modularity

Modular data center companies appear in all forms, from modularity at rack levels to modularity at building levels to modularity at infrastructure levels. A data center owner needs first to decide at what level they would like to engage in modular deployment. If the path chosen is a fully modular data center, it becomes significantly more important to engage your potential partner at the very early stages of concept and design.

Similar to there being multiple levels of modularity there are also numerous “product-based” modular designs. As is typical in factory building, the goal is to lean out the construction process and identify as many efficiencies as possible. Often, this is achieved by standardizing a design or product, and producing it to scale. However, when it comes to building data centers, it is very difficult to design a “one size fits all” type of product. Owners have different views and strong opinions about how their data center will look from the perspective of system architecture. One of the great benefits of partnering with modular data center builders is their ability to take an owner’s specific requirements and create customized solutions on a case-by-case basis…and efficiently replicate the process in the future when additional capacity is required.

Full Modular Design

Designing a full modular data center encompasses several aspects of a traditional build model, however, the scope of the project is commonly vetted by the modular data center builders’ capabilities to handle it holistically. There are essentially three components included in the design: white space and electrical and mechanical infrastructure. A true custom modular data center allows owners, along with their consulting team, to define the system architectures and preferred space layout, specify desired equipment requirements, and in some cases stipulate exterior architectural needs. Modular builders then develop a customized design to accomplish the owners’ goals and facilitate construction within a factory environment. However, for this process to be ultimately successful, owners must make note to not get too far down the road of designing a data center in the traditional field build sense and then try to apply it to the factory build method. Factory and field build processes are very different. Therefore, owners must educate themselves on the modular data center design and construction process options available to them and evaluate the realities by which their project objectives will or will not be accomplished by using a factory built modular solution.

Components of Modular Design

Owners also need to consider the primary goal for their data center. Is it an asset? Is it a product? Is it temporary? Does it need to be scalable? All of these questions can be determined in the early stages of engaging a modular data center partner. In some cases it is determined there is a diminished value in pursuing a fully built modular data center. For example, maybe modularizing the infrastructure is the primary need. Mechanical and electrical infrastructure make up over 66 percent of the cost of a total data center build. If an owner can capture cost efficiencies, mitigate risk, achieve scalability and predictability of modular design by applying it only to their mechanical and electrical infrastructure, they stand to gain many benefits as a result. Each project is unique and all present different challenges for design teams and modular builders. However, modular infrastructure builds can be designed for outdoor or indoor scale requirements, offering the owner ultimate flexibility on deploying “what they want – when they need it.”

In summary, education will rule the day. Owners should always get what they want out of a data center design partner. Engaging a modular build partner early in the stages of design or concept will minimize the amount of time needed to vet out the multiple solutions available to each owner. And more importantly, deliver them with predictability…giving them what they want and when they want it while reaping the ultimate benefits of the factory build process according to their desired level of modularity.

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