Critical Facilities: Modular Data Centers
Part 3: Keep Shipping Size Constraints In Mind When Designing Modular Data Center
Keep Shipping Size Constraints In Mind When Designing Modular Data Center
By Dennis Julian - February 2013 - Data Centers
Modular Data Center Or Modular IT?
Often, designers treat the module as a piece of computer equipment. Variations on this theme include individual cabinets or modules that are shipped to the site that have multiple cabinets with the IT equipment and software already installed, wired, and ready to use. Once this IT equipment arrives on site, it is plugged into the data center utility systems one cabinet or one module at a time. Another iteration of this theme is the complete pre-assembled modular data center in an ISO-type container that has multiple cabinets with the IT equipment and software already installed, wired, and ready to use. The container is plugged into site utility infrastructure as a single unit. Containers can be designed for either indoor or outdoor locations. Picking the best installation approach can improve the speed of deployment and, with planning, can result in just-in-time additions to the IT system.
One thing to keep in mind is that these IT installation methods often require proprietary IT equipment. While the installation speed is attractive, data center owners may need a system that is more flexible. Modular data centers that do not require proprietary IT equipment will provide the owner with more options. Ideally, the completed modular data center can support standard IT cabinets in hot/cold aisle arrangements with or without air containment, non-standard cabinet sized equipment like storage or tape units and even mainframe computers. The ability to provide air-side and water-side cooling to the IT equipment will provide flexibility for cooling increased load densities or future water cooled equipment, rear door heat exchangers, or even direct-to-the-chip water cooling systems.
— Dennis Julian
There are specific challenges facing modular data center projects. When considering the construction of a modular data center, the design is limited to building modules within the size constraints permitted for shipping. Shipping and assembly costs can be substantial and the design should be considerate of the potential tradeoffs. For example, if a design requires a 14-foot ceiling but the shipping size is limited to 13 feet, an owner may consider using other types of equipment or a different layout in the data center. If that equipment or design layout is desired, multiple units may be stacked to create a larger interior space. The innovative use of space and how units are assembled is critical to achieving the proper dimensions and layout to promote efficient use and operation of the data center.
Because the container is built off-site, it will ultimately have to be shipped to the site. This creates challenges because the modular data center must economically fit the constraints of its transportation method and route to the site. It is important to know the size limitations of the unit for shipping before construction begins so there are no problems later on. Considerations include the height and width of the module. Units scaled outside of traditional sizes may incur heightened shipping costs due to the need to find compatible routes, the need for escorts, etc. Weight is also a concern because of the type of vehicle that may be used for transportation, the available routes, and the crane required to install the modules.
Modular data centers can be the appropriate solution for many types of projects, but they do come with their own set of pros and cons. One size does not fit all. There are many varieties being developed to meet specific requirements, such as speed, cost, flexibility, and security, among others. The key is to define project goals and requirements while working with experienced design professionals to select the optimum solution for the project.