The Changing Shape (and Size) of Modular Data Centers

While it does not get as much press as hyperscale, edge, and cloud computing, there has been a shift in the design of data centers quietly taking place over the past few years. Modular data center design in general, and modular containers in particular, is changing the way the industry is implementing projects. For CPG, the change seems more like a natural evolution, one that will continue to change the way we think about data center design and deployment. To see how we came to that point of view, let’s take a look at modular design in its historical context. 

The design of the first several generations of data centers yielded static, drab white rooms celebrating mechanical and electrical design’s response to the computer age. They were also built around deployments of specific computer systems, and usually constructed faster than the computers themselves were manufactured. These rooms were also ‘corporate,’ meaning they represented long-term investments in technology for the companies that built them. They were static rather than dynamic and would certainly never be referred to as profit centers. 

The history of data center design can, in some ways, be traced to the shift from computing for business to computing as a business. Colocation has become more ubiquitous as the ‘server huggers’ have learned to let go, and more and more firms are in the business of data and technology instead of using data and technology to support their business. As technology has become the business itself, the focus has naturally shifted to the profitability of the colocation enterprise. Economic pressures being what they are, the industry has focused on new ways not only to compute more economically, but also to increase the return on data center deployments as much as possible. 

Enter stage right: modular data center design. In the data center world, modular has two meanings. First, modular means scalable. Electric components such as UPS gear can be deployed so that they can provide more capacity at a later date, either through software upgrades or by adding new modules to the system to provide more capacity. Today, the term modular refers more to the method of deployment and less to the electrical and mechanical infrastructure itself. Modular now refers to the ability to deliver prebuilt computing capacity in self-contained units. That means electrical, mechanical, and computing capacity can be fixed using solutions like modular containers and skids (or ‘SCIFs’ in government-ese). 

The need for modular data center design is not driven solely by economics, although it is a factor. The challenges presented today, from hyperscale computing to the point solutions needed to expand that computing capacity to the ‘edge,’ have also forced the design community’s hand. Modular design supports large hyperscale applications, and also works well for small edge deployments. Speed to market has also favored not only a scalable solution, but one that can be fabricated off site. Prefab data center solutions improve project economics and reduce the risks inherent with adding capacity using traditional construction methods.

Modular data centers are now being used in more mainstream applications. As corporate computing functions shift to the cloud, it is more common for them to be deployed in secure containers in a colocation facility rather than located in brick and mortar space on the corporate campus. For more about the changing shape of modular data centers, follow the link to see how CPG is taking part in the evolution.

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