Modular or Prefabricated: a question of data center definitions

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At the recent “Power to the Cloud” event in Dubai, I spoke with Tony Day, Global Director of Business Development, Prefabricated Solutions at Schneider Electric following on from a panel discussion where there’d been a degree of confusion about the differences between Modular and Prefabricated data centers.

I asked Tony how he would define the differences between the two terms and he said that he felt the problem was that many people are referring to this emerging category as a whole modular data centers. He expanded on this saying, “A modular data center can actually be a traditional building. In fact a bricks and mortar data center is often made with bricks – a brick being the oldest modular building element there is. Modular isn’t a particularly accurate description, but people use it as it’s easier than saying a prefabricated or pre-assembled data center.”

For Tony a more accurate place to start from was “a system that can be almost totally produced off-site, under controlled conditions, then taken to site as and when needed and then deployed in the amounts that are needed at that point in time.” In other words,  a prefabricated modular data center is one that is made up of at least one pre-engineered, factory-integrated, and pre-tested assembly of subsystems (that have traditionally been installed separately on-site), and mounted on a skid or supplied in an enclosure.

In fact, prefabricated solutions can come in a range of sizes and scales but the principle outlined by Tony above is the same regardless of their size and type.

Whilst some people may have expectations of modular or prefabricated solutions being a certain size and scale, the reality is that prefabricated solutions assembled and tested on factory production lines designed to be deployed and scaled as customers are ready is an area covering a rapidly expanding range of data center products. Recent forecasts and publications by 451 Research and DCD Intelligence have highlighted the increasing interest in, and use of prefabricated data center solutions.

This rapid evolution is why Schneider Electric recently released White Paper 165: Types of Prefabricated Modular Data Centers to help ensure that potential customers can more clearly understand the expanding prefabricated landscape. The white paper highlights the important distinctions between various factory-built building blocks available on the market today including containerized, modular, skid-based, pod-based, mobile, portable, self-contained and all-in-ones. To combat the confusion caused by the proliferation of terms, it also proposes a standard terminology for categorizing the different types of prefabricated modular data centers; defines them and compares their key attributes to provide a frame-work for selecting the best approach for a given application.

Companies all of sizes are looking to better manage their investment in infrastructure. Helping to clarify the definitions will hopefully begin to make it easier for customers to more clearly see the benefits they can take from prefabricated data center solutions.

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