Every industry has its underreported stories — those emerging trends that get overshadowed by other, often less significant, developments until they simply become too big to ignore. For the data center industry, that trend may be the rise of prefabricated modular data centers (PMDCs), and according to new research from Vertiv and OMDIA, it's now on the cusp of being too big to ignore.
Prefabricated modular data centers are already playing a prominent role in how cloud and colocation service providers, telecommunications companies, and enterprises bring new data center capacity online. And that role is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. Some top-level highlights from the research:
- More than half (52%) of the 228 data center executives who participated in the research — all of whom were screened to ensure they had the required knowledge and level of responsibility — have already deployed prefabricated modular data center solutions
- Of those, 34% have more than 10 modules operating and an additional 7% have more than 50
- Virtually all (99%) participants have plans to use modular data center designs in the coming years
- An astounding 93% said they would use prefabricated modular solutions as their default construction process
What is a prefabricated modular data center?
The concept behind prefabricated modular data centers is relatively simple: move on-site construction and integration tasks off site, where they can be performed under tightly controlled conditions by trained specialists.
According to the research, a higher percentage of companies have employed “all-in-one” data center modules than other modular data center designs, although other types of solutions likely have more modules in operation due to their extensive use by hyperscalers. More than four-in-five participating companies who were adopters of prefabricated data centers have deployed all-in-one modules or facilities, which bring together IT and infrastructure systems in a single solution.
The use of this approach to support new data center construction represents one of the most interesting and high value applications of the modular data center approach. Rather than constructing a new free-standing facility using traditional stick-build processes, modules are fabricated off site and then assembled on site, streamlining development processes to enable fast deployment and resulting in high-quality and high performing data centers.
Don't think of these as the data center equivalent of manufactured homes — they can be configured to meet specific needs, and 98% of participants said prefabricated modular data centers are more attractive than traditional data centers. This approach is also being used to support network expansion through compact, edge-ready modules packaged in rugged outdoor enclosures (sometimes mistakenly referred to as “containerized data centers”), such as this example from France’s Orange S.A.
Operators are using IT, infrastructure, and expansion modules to expand capacity in existing facilities. For retrofits and upgrades, they are relying primarily on facility infrastructure modules, in which the complete power or cooling system is integrated and tested off site and arrives ready for fast installation. Power modules can be delivered as a complete power room or as an open skid-mounted system. Cooling skids are custom designed to provide additional capacity to an existing site or to upgrade cooling in an entire facility to support increased capacity and improved efficiency.
Fueling growth in liquid cooling and enabling sustainability
There are multiple reasons modular data centers are taking off, including their ability to support other industry trends such as liquid cooling and sustainability. Due to the tight integration of modular data center design and fabrication processes, prefabricated modular facilities are ideal environments for the high-density racks being deployed today. Integrating liquid cooling systems and infrastructure into these processes eliminates many of the implementation challenges associated with liquid cooling. Twenty-three percent of research participants said that liquid cooling is the optimal cooling approach for modular data centers and an additional 39% chose hybrid air-liquid cooling as the optimal approach.
The fact that virtually all participants plan to use prefabricated data centers and 62% believe some degree of liquid cooling is required to achieve optimal cooling suggests that many prefab data centers are being planned to support high-density racks and that modular data centers will be a key driver in the growth of liquid cooling.
Prefabricated modular data centers are also being used to support data center sustainability initiatives, which the research confirmed as a high priority for the industry. Twenty-six percent of participants said sustainability is the single most important factor affecting data center decisions today and an additional 59% said it was a top-five consideration. By designing and fabricating for efficiency and enabling the use of highly efficient technologies such as liquid cooling and intelligent power systems, prefabricated modular data centers will play an important role in allowing operators to expand capacity while increasing efficiency and utilization. In addition to supporting the development of new, highly efficient data centers, modular data center designs present an ideal opportunity to introduce high-density systems into legacy environments.
To learn more about the evolution of prefabricated modular data centers and how operators are using them today, view the webcast, Addressing Today’s Data Center Construction Challenges with Modular Infrastructure or visit Vertiv's Modular Solutions site to learn more.