Data center in a box

When most people hear prefab or modular buildings, the first thing that comes to mind are mobile homes, cheaply built pre-assembled one-floor homes that are transported by truck and typically laid to rest in a trailer park. However, over the past decade prefab and modular homes have gone through a renaissance of sorts. A sector of the housing industry that was typically associated with low quality and low costs, has been transformed into an industry focused on design, sustainability, and innovation.

As new ideas are brought to the prefab marketplace, concepts that go beyond residential housing are emerging. Cue data center in a box. Companies and institutions are rapidly expanding their capacity to collect, analyze and store big data. This has led many to search for innovative and cost effective ways to either physically grow or consolidate their data centers. Some are turning to prefab or modular data center solutions. These designs eliminate the need to invest in large-scale infrastructure as they are built with in-expensive materials, are pre-configured with server racks and other IT components, and come fitted with cooling and electrical systems. Whereas ground-up data centers can take many months or even years to construct, prefab and modular data centers can be designed, built, and installed in a matter of weeks. They also allow for greater flexibility. Customers can easily scale prefab and modular data centers if growth demands it, and they can easily disassemble them if necessary or reassemble in a different location.

Dell and HP both offer prefab and modular data centers that come delivered with their hardware optimized for customer needs. Dell's Modular Data Center (MDC) can hold up to 2,000 servers and provide free air cooling for most of the year regardless of location. Their goal for the coming years is to have an MDC with one million megawatts of power. Current models offer 40 kilowatts per rack. Other companies are also joining the data center in a box market. Schneider Electric recently announced its plans to offer 15 different prefab data centers that can be scaled up to two million megawatts of power.

It will be interesting to see where this market goes in the coming years. Corporations, government, research facilities and higher education are continually expanding their computational resources and the demand for these resources is projected to grow exponentially over the next decade. To meet these rapidly changing needs and maintain the bottom line decision makers will have to think creatively and strategically. Data center in a box might just be the solution they look for.