March 11, 2013
As we talked about in the first blog in this series the ability to locate a data center where you want it is a recent phenomenon. Only within the last four years could you even consider locating anything other than a Do-it-Yourself data center anywhere but in one of a few major markets (New York metro, Northern Virginia, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and Phoenix). The new level of geographic flexibility provides a variety of new options to prospective data center customers, but perhaps the most important question they must ask now is whether the new facility will be a permanent solution.
The genesis of this permanence question was the advent of the “container” data center. By housing data center components in ISO shipping containers, providers were able to offer prospective customers a degree of mobility that had not previously been available. These “data center in a box” solutions were excellent for applications that had short implementation schedules or were required in extremely remote locations (the military loved them) or site constrained. Unfortunately, they were obviously space constrained (the average container is about 12’x40’), but more importantly they offered no real protection from the elements. For example, as anyone who has ever witnessed the aftermath of a tornado on a trailer park can attest, they are susceptible to high winds and rain. Customers can offset these limitations by placing them in an existing building or erecting one for them, but these requirements reinforce their better suitability to being a temporary, rather than, permanent data center solution.
Pre-fabricated data centers reflect the natural evolution from container-based solutions. Their form factors are similar but their functional design is both more specialized and sophisticated. Pre-fabricated solutions typically have ancillary modules that provide their power and cooling capabilities. Due to their limited size, the data center specific units are best suit to homogeneous configurations. In practical terms this means that a single unit can only support a uniform load group thereby limiting the ability of pre-fabricated units to cost effectively support heterogeneous data center requirements. In other words, these are best suited for applications that are in 100kW+ load groups.
In terms of their ability to serve as permanent data center solutions, pre-fabricated offerings suffer from the same environmental limitations as their container-based counterparts. Due to their use of companion power and cooling units, pre-fabricated data centers are easier to incorporate into an existing physical structure than containers (containers require customers to provide their own components such as parallel switch gear), but a building is still required if they are to be used as a permanent data center solution.
Large, market bound, monolithic facilities remain an alternative for permanent data center solutions. Due to the business models used by monolithic wholesale data center providers, these data centers continue to grow larger in size. These inherent size requirements dictate that these facilities reside in major US metro markets, so geography is a key concern for any company considering this alternative to house their data center applications. Due to their industry experience these facilities are typically well constructed and operated. The size requirements of these offerings dictate that customers have to share all common areas such as the loading dock and eliminate the possibility for firms to use their own operational and security personnel. Adding capacity can also be an issue in monolithic structures due to their multi-tenant structures as space is available on first come, first served basis that often requires future expansion capacity to be leased, and paid for, in advance.
Standalone data center offerings are the newest alternative for customers seeking a permanent solution. Featuring environmentally hardened building shells they are not subject to the environmental considerations of either containers or pre-fabricated solutions, and provide a level of security and physical protection for the data center within equal or superior to monolithic alternatives. Through their use of standard design and construction processes, a standalone data center can typically be completed within five months of all local permitting approvals and are dedicated to a single customer. Customers also have the option to lease or purchase the facility and to operate it with their own personnel if they desire.
The proliferation of new corporate computing requirements is giving rise to increased data center demand from businesses of all sizes. This “democratization” of demand is generating a need for more flexible geographic solutions. The capabilities of the various solutions available today lend themselves to a variety of applications. The common issue across all of them, however, is how long will the data center be required. Determining if your new data center is going to be a permanent solution is the starting point for your evaluation process.