Two of the main talking points at events I attended towards the end of 2013 were Smart Cities and Prefabricated Modular Data Centers. I had a bit of a packed November, with consecutive weeks at DatacenterDynamics London 2013 followed by Power to the Cloud in Dubai. In London the focus had very much been upon prefab, especially in the light of Schneider Electric’s announcement concerning an expanded range of prefabricated data center modules and Data Center Reference Designs. In Dubai there was a tangible buzz of excitement caused by the city’s commitment to becoming a Smart City. In fact the person leading this vision, His Highness Shaikh Mohammed, had performed the opening ceremony at the event, where Schneider Electric had brought to life an exhibit of all its Smart City solutions.
Not wanting to miss the connection, I asked Kevin Brown, vice president of Data Center Offer at Schneider Electric how prefabricated data center solutions contribute towards a Smart City. Kevin opened his answer up with a comment about how things currently stand: “Certainly in order to have Smart Cities we need a Smart Grid, and there is no Smart Grid without Smart Buildings and data centers are incredibly important to buildings. The reality is that within traditional data center builds, the software is not fully implemented to the extent that you need it to be in order to realize a vision of a Smart Grid.”
More efficient use of resources and improved quality of life are two objectives for any Smart City project. But to achieve this requires first gaining an understanding of how resources are consumed and then gaining control of the processes involved so that they can be improved. In Dubai, for example, high-speed wireless internet connections will be provided in public locations. Smart sensors will be installed throughout the city to provide live information and services with the aim of providing all residents and visitors with a better quality of life.
Improving the efficiency of legacy data centers can be made more difficult by the efficiency of the infrastructure components such as cooling equipment and UPS, the data center design itself and reliability or availability requirements. While data center infrastructure management software tools can simplify operational processes, cut costs, and speed up information delivery, the high cost of instrumenting a data center in order to implement an accurate energy monitoring system could render projects unfeasible.
An extreme instrumentation system could accurately assign electrical use to every IT device, and appropriately inform or bill users. Furthermore, it could accurately determine the electrical use of every infrastructure device, from which it would be possible to identify areas for improvement. But such a system also requires a complex software system with a major configuration and data maintenance investment. Unfortunately, the cost of such a system represents a substantial fraction of the total cost of the data center infrastructure, and also is nearly half the cost of the total energy cost of the data center in a year. Therefore, such a system is impractical based upon the expected return on investment, unless the cost of such a metering system decreases substantially. Even then, the installation of such a system represents a sizeable capital expense and a complex and risky installation process, especially in an existing data center.
Talking about the benefits of pre-assembly, Kevin Brown said, “What prefab data centers allow us to do is to program all of this in the factory, get better efficiency so we can more fully instrument the data center itself and therefore we can portray an open protocol so that we can integrate into the Smart Grid. Without prefab, we don’t think its possible to make a smart grid.”