If you asked 100 data center professionals why companies need data centers you’d probably get about 100 different answers. “To add a private cloud”, “To support our new Big Data initiative”, or “we need a new DR site” would not be unexpected replies and they would all be wrong. Fundamentally, companies have, and add, data centers because they need to put stuff in them. A data center is the proverbial “empty vessel” that is defined by the equipment that resides within it. Put in some servers and cages, and it’s a colocation facility, or  a massive amount of storage capacity can make it a node in a cloud network; or put in a cluster of powerful servers and it becomes an HPC center. Since you probably would like to put stuff in your new data center, the available area of the raised floor is a definite consideration when selecting your provider.

Perhaps the best way to think about the available raised floor area of a proposed data center is to compare it to a dance floor. As you’ll see, this focus will help you see that square footage isn’t always the best way to evaluate alternatives. Columns are commonly found with most monolithic modular data halls. Because of the size of these sites, they serve a very important role—they hold the roof up. This make sense when you consider the fact that no one wants to see a few million dollars worth of servers and storage gear crushed beneath several tons of concrete. Unfortunately, if we go back to our dance floor analogy, we see that this architectural necessity can cause serious layout issues. If you conjure a mental picture of a ballroom in 1800’s Vienna filled with well-dressed men twirling bejeweled ladies clad in elaborate evening gowns to the strains of a Strauss waltz, we can see that columns on floor can make the whole affair the equivalent of running through a forest with a blind fold on. In other words, columns get in the way, and while you may not end up with a piece of bark embedded in your cheek, you might strand capacity due to the giant pole sitting amid your row of your high density servers.

Unlike the waltzing impaired offerings of monolithic providers, container and pre-fabricated data center solutions bring to mind the old Billy Idol song, “Dancing with Myself”. Featuring average dimensions of approximately 12’ x 40’ due to their needs to fit on a flatbed for transportation these solutions offer less then 500 square feet of space. Fine, perhaps, for a Soul Train dance line-up, but no so much if you are trying to configure anything applications with load groups measured in anything over a few hundred kW.

Since standalone data centers are built in fixed increments, the need for columns on the data center floor has been eliminated. This column free design offers customers the maximum amount of layout flexibility of any modular data center. From a dance floor perspective, this would be the equivalent of being able to host four (or more) large wedding receptions simultaneously. More importantly, this on the floor flexibility enables a single data center to support multiple load group applications (and even that gigantic tape library robot machine thingy that your storage guy bought) without the potential for stranding capacity.

Since, in terms of layout flexibility, square footage isn’t necessarily all the same, it is important to understand the configuration of your prospective data center in advance. Doing this work upfront enables you to determine if it can accommodate your requirements. This is one of those things that its better to identify upfront versus being unpleasantly surprised later on. Perhaps the best way to make these initial determinations is to decide upfront what type of dance you want to do.

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