Modular Data Centers Offer Flexibility, Savings
By Rita Tatum January 2012 - Data Centers
The data center market is booming. Construction of data centers is expected to grow by more than 16 percent in 2012. To keep up, the industry is borrowing concepts used decades earlier when housing demand outstripped supply.
Data centers are going modular. From mini-data centers to Tier 4 electrical and mechanical infrastructure, data centers are taking advantage of factory assembly, where quality can be pretested and weather conditions do not affect tight construction schedules. The inherent advantages of manufacturing often allow less initial capital outlays, always a plus, but especially valuable in today's tight economy.
Given such advantages, it's not surprising so many are playing the prefabricated ace for everything from small "data center in a shipping container" applications to the off-site chiller plant constructed for a Tier 4 center handling 2,000 transactions every second. The modular approach promises construction of a center in weeks, rather than the year or more it takes with stick-built on-site construction. The concept that built Levittown, N.Y., along with many suburban communities in the mid-20th century, now has moved into cloud services.
A DatacenterDynamics Industry Census 2011 survey of more than 5,000 data center owners and operators found the global market will grow more than 16 percent during 2012 to about $35 billion. This phenomenal growth includes new facilities construction and existing facilities extensions and upgrades, as well as increased outsourcing of data center services. Projections for the United States for 2012 suggest a $3.5 billion investment in additional data center capacity, much of it in the western states.
To keep pace with such growth, data centers often need to be up and operational in weeks, rather than months. They need to be flexible, nimble enough to respond to changing technology. They need to be dependable, up to Tier 3 and Tier 4 data center demands. To accomplish that Herculean task, designers are taking advantage of Henry Ford's assembly-line effectiveness.
In one container application using factory-built modules, it took less than two months from the time the company took possession of the building until the first customer was activated in the 800,000-square-foot co-location center. That's phenomenal speed even for the information technology industry, which is known for 18-month generational growth spurts.