Still More Benefits of Prefabricated Modular Data Centers

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In a fairly recent post I wrote about the APC by Schneider Electric white paper, “Practical Considerations for Implementing Prefabricated Data Centers,” focusing mainly on benefits around planning and design, financing and engineering. After reading this post about a prefabricated data center that Schneider Electric deployed in California for a customer in the oil and gas industry, I decided to revisit the white paper and delve a little deeper.

The oil company faced a number of issues that made it a great candidate for a prefabricated modular data center, including a time crunch, budget issues and environmental concerns. And the latest white paper, co-authored by Barry Rimler and Wendy Torell, explains in good detail how modular data centers address all of those issues – in addition to those covered in my previous post.

Let’s start with the time element. Lots of factors make prefabricated data center modules quicker to implement, with the main one being that the data center is assembled largely in the factory so there’s far less work to do on site. But that fact brings with it additional benefits that the white paper highlights, like simplified permitting and inspections.

The permitting process is similar for both types of data centers, but drawings for prefabricated modules can be simpler and focus on field connections rather than factory assembled components. As the white paper says:

Prefabrication not only reduces the time required to develop construction drawings and “permit sets”, but also allows for efficient review and inspection.

Similarly, inspections generally focus on the field constructed aspects of the data center because the pre-assembled components have already, in general, been “reviewed, inspected, and ‘listed’ by UL, ETL, etc. in the factory,” the white paper says.

Besides saving time, facility modules also save money in the permitting process because the cost of the module itself is generally not included in the project value on which the permit cost is based. That’s because, again, the local inspector is not being asked to inspect much of the module – it’s already been done.

Procurement is likewise simpler and faster for prefabricated data centers. For one thing, you buy the module from a single vendor as a complete system, not a collection of individual components from multiple vendors. And you avoid some of the procurement-related challenges of traditional data center projects, such as delivery of an incomplete bill of materials or missed delivery of certain components.

The white paper also covers the issue of securing the modules, which is one area where the oil company found significant benefit. As noted, that module was being placed in California, so had to take into account the possibility of earthquakes. Here’s how that issue was addressed:

Schneider Electric will place the modules on a specially designed, autonomous seismic pad. The pad is about 100 feet square and sits on top of pylons that allow it to move in the event of an earthquake. In effect, then, the entire data center will be protected in the event of an earthquake.

As you can imagine, engineering a pad to withstand earthquakes of various magnitudes is considerably easier than trying to protect the various components within the data center individually. The white paper walks you through a number of basic options for how to secure the modules, whether earthquakes are a consideration or not.

The white paper also gives advice on placement and orientation of modules to ensure reliability, efficiency, accessibility, and maintainability during delivery and operation.

To learn more, check out APC by Schneider Electric white paper number 166, “Practical Considerations for Implementing Prefabricated Data Centers.”

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