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Pre-fabrication: A New Way of Architecting Data Centers

Today, data centers must be able to keep up with the pace of business where computing demands continue to increase at warp speed, and many managers are finding that legacy infrastructure can be expensive and difficult to scale as needed, writes Steven Carlini of Schneider Electric. To avoid these legacy problems, downtime and other issues, data center and facility managers are considering a recent innovation that will mitigate these difficulties: pre-fabricated architecture.

Steven Carlini is senior director, Data Center Global Solutions for Schneider Electric.

Steve-Carlini-tnSTEVEN CARLINI
Schneider Electric

In today’s connected world, digital devices that generate data are omnipresent. As a result, the world’s data is growing, and it’s growing fast. So fast, in fact, that industry research firm IDC predicts that our “digital universe” will have reached four zettabytes of information by late this year. 1 For perspective, that’s nearly 50 percent more than 2012 volumes and almost quadruple 2010 volumes.

As businesses realize the advantages of collecting this big data, they have begun to look for more efficient, powerful and flexible IT infrastructure able to store, analyze, protect and manage it. As the demand for more computing power has risen, so have the pressures placed on data centers. Today, these facilities must be able to keep up with the pace of business where computing demands continue to increase at warp speed, and many managers are finding that legacy infrastructure can be expensive and difficult to scale as needed.

Consider some of the challenges associated with many traditional data center builds:

  • Too many parties involved: typical data center deployment and upgrade projects involve many different professionals such as electrical and mechanical contractors, designers, consultants, architects, facility departments, IT departments, and executives. Large groups with differing perspectives and opinions can cause significant delays.
  • Complexity and duration: a traditional project involves numerous steps along the plan, design, build and operate pathway, increasing the potential for problems to arise at given points throughout the process.
  • Inconsistencies in quality and incompatibility of equipment: in general, data center architecture is comprised of numerous pieces of equipment from a variety of different manufacturers. Issues with compatibility are likely to arise and the time, effort and talent needed to integrate, test and commission is significant.

With business success relying heavily on an organization’s ability to connect with customers and provide services, data center downtime can not only be detrimental to an organization’s reputation, but can strain customer relationships and incur costs upwards of tens of thousands or millions of dollars.

To avoid these problems, data center and facility managers should consider a recent innovation helping to mitigate these difficulties: pre-fabricated architecture. In contrast to traditional construction where components are installed separately onsite, pre-fabricated infrastructure is a pre-engineered, factory-integrated and pre-tested system of power, cooling and IT modules mounted on a skid or in an enclosure.

Benefits of Pre-fabricated Data Centers

According to a recent Uptime Institute survey, 70 percent of companies globally have built a new site or significantly renovated a data center in the past five years.2 However, only 8 percent of responding data center operators have deployed pre-fabricated modular data centers, with an additional 8 percent planning to deploy the prefabricated modular products.3 These numbers are surprising, considering many survey participants likely experienced the unexpected delays caused by the aforementioned issues.

Despite slow adoption, pre-fabrication has the potential to be a disruptive technology in the data center design and build industry. Not only does it allow managers to ensure availability by shortening overall deployment time, allowing new, expanded or retrofit facilities to be up and running quickly, but increases agility and reliability through a tried and tested design and construction, decreases uncertainty and lowers total cost of ownership (TCO):

  • Design: Because the building blocks of this phase are designed mostly in R&D or provided via reference designs, the need to pre-design customized data center modules is near non-existent. Additionally, site plan design becomes very simple and costs are lessened because the layout uses pre-engineered modules-
  • Construction: Infrastructure that is pre-engineered, prefabricated, factory-integrated and repeatable allows for decreased complexity of the project and nearly eliminates issues with human error. It cuts costs on shipping, un-packaging components, taking inventory, and laying out and assembling components since these procedures are completed at the factory. Additionally, because pre-fab data centers can be mounted in an enclosure, money can also be saved by deploying the data center outside, rather than in a facility-
  • Installation and Maintenance: A “one-stop” contract leads to less expenditure on purchasing a custom management control system installation or custom programming.
  • Capacity Management and Expansion: Pre-fabricated data centers are highly scalable. With traditional infrastructure, managers must estimate future growth at the time of construction. This leads to high capital expenses, wasted cash flow, and large amounts of unused and unnecessary equipment. Pre-fabrication allows for easily deployment of additional modules in a relatively short time and at a low upfront cost, which optimizes cash flow and reduces unused data center capacity.

While uncertainty cannot be fully eliminated from any project, prefabrication can reduce many of the time and cost risks associated with traditional data center deployment, while also future-proofing the data center investment to meet new demands. By taking advantage of this architecture methodology, managers can trust their data center to run smoothly and efficiently, and to meet the ever-growing demands of our highly digitized business environment.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.


1 “Top 10 Predictions,” IDC,
2 “2013 Data Center Industry Survey,” Uptime Institute,, page 7
3 “2013 Data Center Industry Survey,” Uptime Institute,, page 10

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