Data CenterPower and Cooling

Prefab as the Next Evolution of Data Center Design and Procurement

Tony Day, Global Director of Business Development for Data Centers at Schneider Electric, addressed a conference audience at Data Centre World, London ExCel on how prefabrication is an evolutionary step in data center design and development. It’s an intriguing idea and and I was keen to meet up with him and ask more about what he means and why it’s happening.

Tony explained that Schneider Electric is seeing a change in the way data centers are being procured; the company is seeing more interest in the use of pre-engineered systems, i.e., prefabricated and pre-assembled systems in place of traditional on site build outs (stick buildings, as the industry has come to refer to them). The Schneider Electric experience squares with the findings of researchers looking at the emerging marketplace for modular data centers (semi prefabricated, prefabricated and all-in-one designs); MarketsandMarkets forecasts the global modular data center market to grow from $6.52 billion in 2014 to $26.02 billion by 2019, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 31.9%.

So I asked Tony what he thinks is driving this evolution in demand? He told me that it’s being driven mostly by customer requirements.

“Many businesses are now working with a much shorter business horizon,” said Tony Day. “This includes having to put together their long term support technology whilst only looking ahead 6 months. This is meaning that IT and facilities also have to deliver the technology to support business in the same 6 month time frame. Combine this with new regulatory requirements coming to market, a focus on reducing energy consumption due to rising costs as well as increasing demands for sustainability means all of this is creating a need to be able to deliver solutions on site faster, with more certainty and one of the ways we can do that is to remove a lot of the work from site”.

Effectively what Schneider Electric is doing is taking what was a “craft approach” to building data centers and turning it into a more industrialised process. This brings both the manufacturer and the customer plenty of advantages. In particular it gives greater certainty over what’s going to be delivered on site and when. The manufacturer can control both costs and quality far more effectively in a factory environment.

But prefabrication also provides greater productivity on site, where it’s traditionally been extremely low. One of the challenges of traditional builds is that often it’s the first time a team has worked together on a build: the people who are doing the site construction work through to the professional teams who may have only have worked together on that particular project.

The modular approach turns this around. With a prefabricated solution, the people on site come from one single team, they have a common goal, a common interest and they have worked together numerous times before in erecting these systems. This produces a better, faster result with a greater degree of certainty.

I asked Tony if the issues he mentioned seemed to resonate with the audience he presented to at DCW. His feeling is that they did, but for some people there still remains a question of whether prefabrication really is best solution to resolve the issues? The case for using prefabrication and pre-assembly has been well proven by independent case studies that demonstrate a number of benefits for the customer: A better result with greater certainty of capacity, better quality on site, a significant reduction in the amount of the re-working that goes on at sites and the removal of a lot of the interface issues that typically slow down progress and cause programme issues. Prefabrication and pre-assembly also eliminates a lot of the commercial and contractual issues that can go on at sites, making for a much more commercially effective way of building as well.

4 Responses
  1. Kevin

    Prefabricated data centres have a lot of benefits and could and will replace traditional data centres. This approach lets you build the data centre you need in the next couple of months and then upgrade from that. The biggest downside is the overall quality of the data centre because not all manufactures will deliver on time or exactly what they promised to.

  2. Dan

    The prefab and modular concepts sound great! But I’m a little fuzzy on the market for prefab data centers. What I’m trying to puzzle out is which users need them and are willing to forego cloud solutions (for xample) in favor of them. So if I design a prefab data center, am I making it rugged for remote locations, something to install inside a building, or a self-contained box with all necessary support infrastructure? What does everyone think?

    • Steven Carlini

      Thanks for your thought provoking question. Prefabricated Data Centers are the fastest growing architecture in the Data Center segment but still represent a relatively small portion of the overall market. Users that are currently buying them or are strongly considering them vary. At Schneider Electric, we tend to put customer applications into 3 buckets – Ruggedized, Large Scalable, and Quick Deploy

      The first application is Ruggedized, Mobile Solutions for Industrial, Government, Emerging Economies.
      Their challenges include harsh environments, International transportation, need for high security and having to deal with minimal local support for design/build/deployment of data centers.

      Prefabricated Solutions that answer these challenges are prefabricated ISO modules that are easily transportable globally, with enclosures designed for environment, industry regulations, and security with
      self-contained data centers can be deployed anywhere.

      The second application is scalable solutions for service providers and large scale deployments. The challenges are to grow data center capacity quickly and minimize CapEx through scaled roll-outs

      Prefabricated Solutions to answer these challenges are large capacity power skids to deploy prefabricated power and multi-module IT rooms with air economization to deploy in 50-100 rack increments. Planning and design can be streamlined with fully prefabricated and semi-prefabricated Reference designs from 100kW-20MW

      The last application is quick deploy, pre-engineered solutions for enterprise, healthcare, and education.
      The challenges they are facing are lack of in-house design/build knowledge, gaining regulatory approvals,
      ability to scale to meet business needs and help making buy vs build decisions

      The prefabricated solutions are pre-configured IT, power and cooling modules ranging in capacity from 50kW-1MW, Design/Build Services and assessment services and tools to help decision making between build/buy vs. outsource.

      I hope this answers some of your questions.

  3. jay Ford

    The market for “pre-fab”, or more accurately, “Modular” is very active. To overly simplify the market we can look at two halves: This first is for those who are replacing “brick & mortar” with a modular solution. This solution is usually less expensive and has a shorter lead-time so the client can save initial capex and time. The second set is more about energy efficiency and robust compute. These clients place value in the energy savings and environmental aspects that a modular solution can bring when combined with specific technology. As an example a LiquidCooled solution devised by LCS offers 75% less space, 60% less OPEX and no reliance on CRAC and CRAH. In addition these systems are fully sealed and adverse environments have no affect on them – so feel free to locate in the desert or high heat and humid markets – they shrug the thermals off!