Wanted: A Modular Data Center Design Specification

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

I’ve recorded a couple of videos that you can check out here on the Data Center Blog  (or on YouTube) about the concept of modular data centers. One of them, which I’ve written about previously, talks about the various benefits modular data centers bring, including faster deployment, lower cost and higher reliability.

But the definition of what exactly constitutes a modular data center remains vague, and that’s the topic of another video. This second video is loosely based on a white paper I wrote a while back, “Specification of Modular Data Center Architecture,” which is my attempt to come up with a framework that describes the various ways that modularity can be deployed for data center power, cooling and IT infrastructure and when each option is most effective.

First we need to agree on what we mean by the term “modular.”  Every data center is made up of modules; a pump is a module and so is a wire. But a true data center module is a system that has lots of parts integrated together into a prefabricated, pre-engineered system, with well-defined interfaces so we can essentially snap them together in the field. The result is a much more predictable and scalable system.

When you get involved in a modular data center project, you need to be able to articulate a specification for the data center and be able to compare and contrast alternative modular design approaches. There is no single perfect modular data center architecture that works for all applications because of the significant differences in the requirements of data center operators. They include:

  • Practical variations in the size of data centers
  • Variations in growth plans
  • Differing availability requirements
  • Site specific preferences and constraints

What we can say with certainty is that if you’re not sure about your requirements for power and capacity up front, or if you know your load is likely to grow over time, a modular approach makes a lot of sense. It enables you to deploy the data center infrastructure you need today, then add on to it as needed to keep up with your growing IT load requirements.

Modular data center architecture is a trend that’s evolving in the business so expect to see further changes in the next 5 to 10 years. I expect most data centers will be based on some form of system level modules that snap together and whose interfaces are well defined. That will enable us to move a lot of the “manufacturing” of data centers out of the field and back into factories where it belongs. Likewise, we can design and code software ahead of time rather than coding in the field, which essentially amounts to creating custom code for each individual installation.

To achieve these benefits, we’re all going to have to better understand the various approaches to modular data center architectures and when each is appropriate.  That’s what the free white paper number160, “Specification of Modular Data Center Architecture,” is all about. I encourage you to download it soon.

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  • Julian Regina

    11 years ago

    Modular data centres will be here for the long haul. The innovation in cloud storage. Here in Saskatchewan, Canada we’re storing more and more in these modular data centres, just makes sense. I am very curious as to see how these specification will evolve over time and where the the world the future ones will be developed.

    Cheers mate,

  • @ Julian – Have you guys always been a modular data center or is this something that you’ve been able to evolve into over time? Also, is there a tool that you would recommend for managing your data center operations?

    – Jaclyn

  • Hello,
    I believe modular data centre must have evolved over time by seeing the behaviour of the customers and the technology that has developed over time. I can’t wait for the next stage of this development.

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