What's Fueling the Rise of Micro Data Centers
HPE Scalable Data Center Module. [Courtesy HPE]

What's Fueling the Rise of Micro Data Centers

In two words, latency and cost, but there's more to it.

Two years ago, a record number of Star Wars fans trying to simultaneously buy tickets to the opening of The Force Awakens crashed the online booking systems of nearly all major movie theaters. Traffic surged to seven times its typical peak level in less than 24 hours, causing outages and frazzled nerves.

It's easy enough to shrug off a minor inconvenience like having to wait a few extra hours to buy a movie ticket; it's a whole different matter when it halts automated trains and buses, stops a manufacturing plant, or stops the processing of key medical data at a hospital. Latency simply cannot be tolerated in certain applications.

The sheer number of mobile devices now connected to the internet, machine to machine communication (M2M), the Industrial Internet of Things, resource-dependent applications -- such as data-heavy streaming video and wearables -- all contribute to network congestion. Gartner expects digital traffic to expand by 23 percent annually with 8.6 zettabytes of IP traffic by 2018, so it's bound to get worse before it gets better.

Installing bigger switches to increase bandwidth in centralized enterprise data centers only goes so far in reducing latency. So, businesses are looking for ways to expand data processing infrastructure closer to where data is actually generated.

Today, many organizations that need to share and analyze a quickly growing amount of data -- retailers, manufacturers, telcos, financial services firms, and many more -- are turning to localized micro data centers installed on the factory floor, in the telco central office, the back of a retail outlet, etc. The solution applies to a broad base of applications that require low latency, high bandwidth, or both.

Schneider Electric defines a micro data center as "a self-contained, secure computing environment that includes all the storage, processing, and networking required to run the customer's applications." They are assembled and tested in a factory environment and shipped in single enclosures that include all necessary power, cooling, security, and associated management tools (DCIM software).


At least three companies in the business of micro data centers -- Rittal, Panduit, and Z Modular -- will be exhibiting at Data Center World on April 5 and 6. Schneider, on the other hand, will have two representatives sitting on a panel to discuss another of its specialties, "The Energizer Bunny for Data Centers: Microgrids," on Monday, April 3, from 3:45 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. at Data Center World in Los Angeles. Register here for the conference.


Micro data centers are designed to minimize capital outlay, reduce footprint, energy consumption, and increase speed of deployment.

Several business and technology trends have created the conditions for micro data centers to emerge as a solution. According to a Schneider whitepaper titled Practical Options for Deploying Small Server Rooms and Micro Data Centers, they are:

  • Compaction: Virtualized IT equipment in cloud architectures that used to require 10 IT racks can now fit into one.
  • IT convergence and integration: Servers, storage, networking equipment, and software are being integrated in factories for more of an "out of the box" experience.
  • Latency: Tere is a strong desire, business need, or sometimes even life-critical need to reduce latency between centralized data centers (e.g. cloud) and applications.
  • Speed to deployment: To either gain a competitive advantage or secure business.
  • Cost: In many cases micro data centers can utilize "sunk costs" in facility power and cooling infrastructure, meaning they can take advantage of excess capacity that for one reason or another isn't being used. This kind of under-utilization is a common issue in enterprise data centers.

Micro data centers are key for optimizing the performance and usefulness of mobile and other networked devices via the cloud. Service providers have embraced this vision most strongly from the start, but it won't be long before enterprise IT pros will likely do the same.

A version of this article originally appeared on AFCOM.

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