The Modular Data Center Grows Up

Mike Allen
June 13, 2014

"The modular data center emerged as an alternative to conventional facilities, the hip younger sibling of the traditional data center. Though the two share DNA, the modular data center has been nurtured in different ways, and is leveraged by businesses seeking a cost-efficient version of the real thing. However, the time has come for modular data centers to step out of the shadow of traditional facilities. A flurry of new innovations and developments in the modular data center indicate that it's coming into its own.

You Say You Want a Revolution
Many of the modular data center leaders didn't start in the server support sector. Schneider Electric, which recently debuted a modular data center model it called ""revolutionary,"" according to CIO Today, is a good example of this emerging paradigm. The French corporation rose into the data center industry by way of energy management strategies, through tools it produced to more effectively distribute energy and automate key processes in a variety of facilities. It's only recently that energy consumption - and approaches to use power more efficiently - became a widespread top priority.

Energy use in the IT sector continues to grow at a rapid rate - a recent survey by the Internet Based Communication Networks and Services at the University of Gent found that the IT industry doubled its energy consumption between 2003 and 2012. Data centers specifically are gaining a reputation as power hogs, using around 1.5 percent of all global electricity and cumulatively producing 0.5 percent of the planet's carbon emissions, according to The Daily Fusion. The mission-critical public and private sector activities that data centers support cannot easily be scaled back, so energy efficiency has become a central cause for the industry.

Schneider Electric Maximizes With Modular Data Center
It made perfect sense for Schneider Electric, a company well-versed in energy management, to target this rising complication. It has since come out with several data center modules and technologies, designed to reduce energy use, optimize efficiency and lower the total cost of ownership for company's data center footprint. It recently launched Reference Design 21, a modular data center blueprint that promises enhanced levels of customization and flexibility, according to CIO Today.

Units offering between 200 kilowatts and 3.6 megawatts of dedicated power, which can be deployed at-need and scaled up as an enterprise's requirements grow. The modules also offer prefabricated Facility Power Skids with up to 1200 kW of energy, as well as EcoBreeze Air Economizers. The modules can be easily configured to switch between N, N+1 and 2N configurations, depending on a company's redundancy needs.

Schneider's module, according to vice president Joe Reele, ""provides data center managers with the customizable design guidance they need to quickly right-size their facility without excessive capital overlay or risk, at a cost-per-kW entry point that is below industry standards.""

Overall, the project is intended to remove faulty estimations, guesswork and gut feelings from infringing upon a company's data center scalability and profitability efforts. Because these prefabricated modules can be easily combined, they can be integrated with relatively little friction into an enterprise's current environment, whether it's composed of all modular containers or a hybrid traditional/modular setup.

Out With the Old, In With the New
Not every company needs a modular data center, while many can find benefits from an approach that complements larger, more traditional facilities with containers for extra storage space and processing power. Bank of America is one such company taking this new, forward-looking course. The financial services corporation is currently working on a shift in its cloud computing infrastructure through modular components in its Virginia data center, InformationWeek reported.

The company is testing private cloud management stacks - a proprietary one, as well as one based on OpenStack, according to the source. It also plans to invest heavily in software-defined networking, as well as ""ruthlessly standardized"" commodity equipment. The end goal is to run 80 percent of workloads on the stack. It aims to move about 7,000 workloads to the stack by the end of 2014.

Its need for modular data centers evolved from necessity, much like Schneider Electric used heightened energy requirements to find a niche. The financial services industry has stricter standards for customer data storage, so Bank of America needs to have more spread-out facilities. However, it can't sacrifice efficiency, responsiveness or availability in the process. David Reilly, Bank of America's global technology infrastructure executive, said that modular data centers will improve performance in the long temr.

""Perhaps the biggest impact the software-defined move will deliver is the way we build systems and software,"" stated Reilly. ""The infrastructure becomes less central,"" he added. ""It's just less important.""

Where Do Modular Data Centers Go From Here?
As concerns over environmental, regulatory and financial factors that can impact data centers rise, they may continue to stimulate both the entrance of non-traditional data center providers such as Schneider Electric into the market, as well as investment in hybrid computing environments currently being investigated by Bank of America and others. The cloud, virtualization and software-defined networking have helped enterprises better understand the variety of computing systems that could potentially benefit their data and application portfolios, as well as business continuity, disaster recovery and access management. Seeing these solutions baked in to modular data centers, which can be easily acquired, deployed and brought online, will spur adoption.

Of course, a company must evaluate its needs before it jumps on the bandwagon. Mega data centers will still remain in use for many organizations, especially those dealing with astronomical data requirements. Prefabricated facilities also offer diminished flexibility in terms of design, which might be fine for a company that simply needs the facilities, but may not deliver enough ROI to offset the restrictions they can place on data use. Ultimately, the benefit of modular data centers coming into their own is choice. With more pressure placed on data center companies every day to lower energy usage, heighten performance and deliver optimal availability at all times, giving owners, operators and users more options for the kind of environment they rely on is always a good thing."



    Mike Allen

    "The modular data center emerged as an alternative to conventional facilities, the hip younger sibling of the traditional data center. Though the two share DNA, the modular data center has been nurtured in different ways, and is leveraged by businesses seeking a cost-efficient version of the real thing. However, the ...