It’s no secret that prefabricated modular data centers offer a number of advantages as compared to “stick built” data centers, including speed of deployment, predictability, scalability, and lifecycle cost. And we haven’t been shy about writing about such benefits on this site (see here and here for examples).
Less discussed is what goes into deploying a modular data center, meaning the design process, site preparation, procuring the equipment and the actual installation. Such considerations are the topic of a new APC by Schneider Electric white paper, appropriately titled, “Practical Considerations for Implementing Prefabricated Data Centers.”
Co-authored by Barry Rimler and Wendy Torell, the paper provides even more arguments in favor of prefabricated modular data centers, as each of the steps it discusses describes advantages vs. building a data center from scratch – some of which you probably haven’t considered.
Take the first topic, planning and design considerations, for example. The paper describes two planning considerations that are unique to prefabricated data centers: how the equipment is classified financially, and the degree of component-level design engineering involved.
In terms of finances, because prefabricated modules are assembled in a factory and come pre-packaged either on a skid or in some kind enclosure, they are considered a “product” as opposed to a collection of parts or subsystems. That means they can be classified as personal property rather than site or building improvements. The rationale is that the module will not become part of the building in the same way that a switchboard, panelboard or the like could be if they were ordered as individual components and installed at the site.
That’s an important distinction because it gives the owner more options for how to classify data center modules from a financial perspective. As the paper explains:
- They may be booked and depreciated separate of the building, using a more appropriate useful life of 10 years, for example
- They may be leased (or sold and leased back) independent of the rest of the assets on the site
- They may be moved (or relocated) from one regional data center to another with its prior depreciation recognized and its remaining value intact
Engineering tasks are likewise simplified with prefabricated modules. The paper makes the analogy to buying a car, where you don’t have to specify individual components and their various tolerances and performance characteristics. Instead, you focus on bigger picture elements, like seating capacity, engine size and maybe towing capacity.
Similarly, with prefabricated data center modules, you don’t have to concern yourself with nitty gritty elements like wiring and piping requirements, the pressure drop associated with valves and hydronic components, and pump and impeller sizes. All that (and lots more) is addressed in the factory, with components selected that are known and tested to work well with one another. In fact, all of the critical components and controls – such as circuit breakers, transfer switches, VFDs, and chillers – can be tested in the factory as a complete system and certified by an underwriting organization, such as UL, ETL, or CSA. In short, use of prefabricated modules can cut overall data center design time in half, from about 24 weeks to 12.
The paper goes on to describe similar benefits in other areas, namely site preparation, procurement and site installation. To learn more, check out the paper, number 166, “Practical Considerations for Implementing Prefabricated Data Centers.”