How data center pod frames can reduce IT room costs by 15%

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If you recall from my prior blog, a ‘free standing pod frame’ allows you to install containment as well as the power, cooling, and networking to the pod, independent of the IT racks. I discussed how these free-standing pod frames can reduce the time it takes to deploy equipment in an IT room by 20%.  This savings comes primarily from reducing the labor involved with constructing/installing ceiling and floor structures traditionally used to mount services (networking, power, cooling distribution).  Depending on your business, reduced time to “go-live” can translate into increased revenue, new customers, happier customers, competitive advantages, etc.  Regardless of the specifics, time is money.

Along with time savings comes capex benefits (the focus of this blog). We conducted a detailed cost analysis and demonstrated a 15% cost savings over deploying traditional pods.  This analysis is part of the white paper that my colleague, Patrick Donovan, & I recently published, Analysis of How Data Center Pod Frames Reduce Cost and Accelerate IT Rack Deployments.

Specifically, we analyzed a 1.3MW data center, and compared the following two IT room deployments:

  1. Traditional approach: Network cabling distributed overhead on ceiling grid structure/ladders, power distributed from RPPs under the raised floor to each rack, containment mounted to the IT racks
  2. Pod-frame approach: Network and power distributed on support cantilevers on the pod frames; containment mounted to the pod frames

For a 1.3MW data center, the 15% capex savings translated to $246k.  Just like with the deployment time savings, most of the cost savings was the result of the frame-based approach having structural mounting properties, which avoids or reduces the cost and labor from ceiling and floor structures.  CostWorks, a construction cost estimating tool that provides industry-standard RSMeans construction costs, was used for typical material and installation costs of key subsystems, including the raised floor, Unistrut grid, trays and ladders.

Hyperpod capex savings

Specifically, the three biggest capex savings categories were as follows:

  1. Shorter raised floor and no cable cutouts: With overhead cabling, you don’t need the raised floor to distribute power cables, a shorter raised floor was used (since there are no air flow obstructions).  This also meant no cable cutouts (a significant labor expense) and no grommets/brush strips needed (a significant capital expense when you consider the total number of cutouts).  In total, this resulted in an estimated savings of $137k.
  2. Reduced ceiling grid construction: The ceiling grid system materials and installation was reduced by eliminating the grid system over the individual IT pods.  Instead, the ceiling grid was only needed from the main data cabling trunk line to get data to each pod, and then the pod frames overhead cantilevers were used to distributed cables to the individual racks.  This represented $64k of savings.
  3. Lower cost frame-mounted panelboards: There are many ways you can distribute power in an IT space, but often, PDUs or RPPs that sit on the data center IT floor are used.  The frame-based approach was designed to incorporate lower-cost panels mounted directly to the side of the frames.  This resulted in floor space savings as well as material and labor capex savings, and was estimated to be $63k.

The paper presents the details of the analysis methodology, specs of the architectures compared, assumptions, and findings.  Of course, the actual cost savings will depend on the approach being compared, since traditional practices vary from one data center to the next.  For instance, in some cases, both power and networking are distributed overhead in ceiling grid systems. This would reduce the capex savings since there is no need for the raised floor cable trays, cutouts, etc.

In addition to cost and time savings benefits, there are other drivers that make shifting to free standing frames a logical decision.  The biggest is the fact that now you can have pods completely assembled with all power, networking, and cooling services mounted as well as have the air containment system in place, before the IT racks arrive.  With trends like hyper-convergence, this adds the needed flexibility to roll populated racks into and out of the pod.

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