Prefabricated Data Center Considerations: Part 2, Site Prep

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In my last blog, I shared two key planning and design differences between prefabricated data centers vs. traditional stick built.    Now I’d like to share some key considerations in preparing a site for prefabricated data center modules. This includes obtaining permits, laying pipes and wires, preparing the land, and inspecting the site. For the details, check out the paper that Barry Rimler and I wrote titled Practical Considerations for Implementing Prefabricated Data Centers.


Permits:  The permitting steps for a data center built from prefabricated modules is very much the same as that of a stick-built data center, except that the drawings can be more simply drawn.  The drawings can focus on the field connections and not the factory-assembled internal wiring and piping.  Time can be saved in producing the construction drawings, since all of the detailed information is available from the manufacturer.  And from the standpoint of permitting costs, the value of the modules is generally omitted from the schedule of values, since the module has already been inspected and then “listed” by agencies like UL, ETL, etc. in the factory.  Think about your washer and drier in your home.  The same principal applies.  The gas and electrical system feeding the appliances are itemized on the permit and inspected in the field, but the UL listed laundry appliances are not.


Indoors or outdoors:  Many prefab modules are well suited for outdoor placement as standalone structures, but sometimes modules are placed indoors if the module is skid-mounted or not weather rated, if the personnel desire to be protected from inclement weather during operation and maintenance activities, or for added security of their critical systems.  One of most important considerations regarding the placement of the modules is the proximity and access to utilities – electricity, water, and in the case of IT space modules, the “communications carriers” involved in moving the data.  But when choosing the placement, it is also important to consider the ease of installation and removal, servicing, general housekeeping (such as rain water management, snow removal), and any perimeter security or screening that may be required as part of the lease or zoning regulations.

Foundations: There are different types of foundations that can be used for placement and anchoring of a module.  A continuous concrete slab is the most common. Climate and soil conditions determine specific requirements like seismic anchoring, foundation walls, and footings.  Other options like multiple slabs or columns are sometimes used when surface water drainage is an issue.

Modular Slabs

In part 3, I’ll cover some important considerations with the procurement process of prefab data centers.

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