What's With the Modular Data Center Revolution?

20 Jul 2015 by Datacenters.com Technology

"The modular data center has been a magnet for discussion in recent years, even as an agreed-upon list of its central traits has proven elusive. Much like with cloud computing, vendors have taken some liberties with the term, making it hard to know if their solutions will actually meet customer expectations or are even modular in the first place. With cloud, this phenomenon is commonly called ""cloudwashing,"" so perhaps we can call what is going on with modular data centers ""modwashing.""

In this context, it is crucial that SMBs know how to distinguish a pure modular data center from an approximation. Moreover, the importance of being able to tell the difference will only grow in the years ahead, in tandem with the size of the global modular data center business. A June 2015 report from Research and Markets estimated that modular data centers are an $8.37 billion market in 2015, but could top $35 billion by 2020.

With that in mind, let's look at what should define a modular data center. We will examine how it differs from a traditional data center and why a business might opt for it.

1) What are the modular data center basics?
A modular data center is one that packages prefabricated and/or standardize infrastructure into repeatable modules - hence the name. This approach to data center design emerged in part as a response to trends such as cloud computing, distributed applications and big data, more specifically as a means for organizations to scale IT operations while also streamlining costs.

Modularity means that assets are only deployed as needed, which saves money and data center space. They are not constrained by the brick-and-mortar confines of a traditional data center. One popular option is to use a container that houses cooling and power components in addition to compute capacity. Scaling the data center is as simple as adding another container, although this approach is usually optimal only for single-tenant environments.

""A container is not the same thing as modular, but a container can be a part of a modular data center,"" explained Bill Kleyman for Data Center Knowledge. ""A modular data center references a deployment method and engineered solution for assembling a data center out of modular components in, many times, prefabricated solutions that enable scalability and a rapid delivery schedule.""

2) What are the advantages of the modular data center?
Rapid speed of deployment, efficient density and low total cost of ownership are some of the most prominent benefits of the modular data center:
The standardization of components means that orders can be fulfilled quickly, maximizing scalability.
A modular data center might have density up to 20 kilowatts per cabinet, with a very good PUE figure.
Underutilized infrastructure is eliminated and maintenance is streamlined by use of standardized equipment.

3) Why is there some confusion over the modular data center?
Modwashing has cropped-up due to the vagueness of the modular data center definition. Any good data center is now designed with scale in mind, meaning that some modular principles, if not the actual containers or on-demand building practices, have been incorporated into brick-and-mortar facilities, too.

Containers could be placed into a traditional data center as a part of a ""modular"" operation, for example. Whether this arrangement is optimal will depend on an SMB's particular requirements. Having the right information about modular data centers will help businesses make the best decisions about what types of data centers they need"


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