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Modular Data Centers Pay Dividends for Customers

With IT expanding to edge environments not suited for IT equipment, prefabricated modular data centers provide a great solution.

September 30, 2020 5 minute read

Prefabricated modular data centers come in any number of shapes and sizes and can be installed and operated just about any type of environment on the planet. We may not always notice them, but prefabricated modular data centers are all around us — supporting CT-scan and MRI machines, ticket sales at a museum, handling Internet searches, streaming movies or supporting smart mirrors and ordering kiosks in restaurants and retail stores. They’re also in places like military bases and war zones, under conditions that most would consider inhospitable to the proper functioning of IT equipment.

Prefab data centers ready for duty

Consider a modular containerized data center for use in a military application, such as Afghanistan. You can create a fully functioning high-density, blade-server data center in a series of pods that include power, cooling and IT space.

Such a data center would have to be able to meet some interesting requirements in order to withstand things like mortar fire. Those requirements included hardened outsides along with specialized connectors and grounding systems. In addition, such a data center would also have to be able to withstand the rather harsh climate in the region, with temps hitting 50⁰C (122°F) in summer and dipping to -25⁰C (-13°F) in winter in the mountains.

Deep IT expertise is not easy to come by in such an environment, either, so a modular architecture is likewise important. Key components need to self-diagnose and slide in and out like drawers, so that even unskilled staff can easily replace them when needed.

Modular benefits extend to commercial applications

You may think that’s an extreme example of a use case for a prefabricated modular data center. But for Schneider Electric, it’s really not. The military frequently opts for prefab data centers for many of the reasons the above example illustrates, as do commercial entities because the modular architecture delivers a number of key benefits.

1. Quick deployment 

The modular architecture is important because the data centers often have to be transported to the end location on a military plane and/or truck. Once there, they frequently need to be up and running fast; features such as quick disconnects and color-coded connections aid in that effort. And when its job is done, the data center may need to be moved out just as fast.

2. Ready for harsh environments 

Plenty of commercial companies are likewise interested in prefab data centers, for some of the same reasons. Consider oil and gas companies that need serious compute power on an oil rig sitting out in the ocean. Ruggedized prefab modules can handle such conditions, from vibration and high humidity to salt water. 

3. Wide range of sizes, from micro data center to megawatt

Utility companies may need small modular data centers to support smart grid infrastructure, which again calls for a module that can withstand the great outdoors. Other micro data center modules look more like a piece of office furniture, making them suitable for installation in an office environment, retail store, restaurant or the like. Still others require full-size ISO containers that can support large, high-density data centers.

Multiple security options with prefab

Security, of course, is always a concern when it comes to any data center and, here again, options abound. It starts with a simple access control at the door with a keypad lock, biometric scan or mag stripe card reader. External cameras allow for remote monitoring to detect who’s trying to gain access. 

In some cases security warrants a vestibule, meaning an empty shell surrounding the data center. That often serves multiple purposes: an extra layer of security (additional door lock) and protection against the elements, as well as office or storage space.

WWT & Schneider Electric: An effective team

Schneider Electric offers the gamut of options in terms of prefabricated modular data centers, from small, self-contained units intended for office and edge use to ISO containers for quick transport, to custom sized modules providing extra data center and working space and design flexibility — all housing complete data centers. In each case, they include all the required power, cooling, security, fire systems and remote monitoring and control, just like a traditional data center.

We bring deep experience in the IT equipment that populates those data centers, with world-class IT partners like Cisco, Dell Technologies, HPE and many more. Once it was common for customers to buy a prefabricated data center, ship it to their site and then populate it with IT equipment. It’s now possible to buy the prefab unit and have WWT facility teams populate it with IT gear and software, fully integrate each component, completely test the total solution and ship it to the site of your choice.

As companies around the world seek to take advantage of the sorts of opportunities that digital transformation presents, they need to quickly roll out data centers of all sizes. Prefabricated modular data centers present an attractive way to accomplish that, whether the data center is going to a military installation, remote oil rig or a restaurant. And by handling integration of IT gear, we make the process as simple as can be.

To learn more, follow our Facilities Infrastructure focus area and request a Facilities Workshop to learn how modular data centers can best solve the sprawling IT challenges that customers are currently facing.

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