Are You Asking the Right Questions: Expansion
Taken as a whole, data centers continue to grow. Chances are many of you are planning on expanding your data centers as you read this. Due to the high likelihood that any data center is going to require additional capacity at some point in time, it is important to understand how the data center provider, or providers, will support your data center growth requirements in the future.
Monolithic modular data centers that feature individual data halls support their customer’s growth needs using the model that has been predominate in the industry over the past five years. Although the trend in recent years has been for these providers to build facilities with more square footage than the average shopping mall, eventually they do run out of space. Since these sites are home to multiple customers, there is no assurance that capacity will be available when it’s time for you to expand. As a result, you must pre-lease, and pay for, the additional space you think you may require when you acquire the capacity you need to support your initial requirements. For example, you may be locked into that design for five years before you need to expand. Although this does ensure that capacity will be available to you when you finally need it, you will also be paying for the unused space during the intervening period.
Like their data hall-based counterparts, Monolithic modular data centers that provide data center space via pre-fabricated units are also space constrained. As a result, they use the same pre-lease model found with data halls offering you the same cost/benefit trade-offs as their elephantine equivalents.
If you elect to use a pre-fabricated modular solution to address your data center requirements adding capacity is a function adding one or more modules, and if necessary, the required MEP units needed to support them. The key issues to consider with this alternative are the physical space and layout flexibility of the modules themselves. Since, these units are built off-site and shipped to your location they must be small enough to fit on a flatbed trailer. This portability is offset by their necessary special constraints. The average pre-fab container is roughly 12’ wide and forty’ long to provide a total interior floor area of 480 square feet. The cost of expansion can be a consideration depending on how much additional capacity you require. Since data center growth tends to be chunky, you would need approximately 21 units to support the need to add 10,000 square feet for example. Since each unit is self-contained, versus a standard raised floor environment, pre-fabricated units with mixed load groups strand capacity, thereby limiting your layout options.
Another expansion related consideration with pre-fabricated units is their use of a single continuous backplane. Just like plugging into a single power strip all units operate in a shared environment. The drawback to this architectural approach is that expansion units cannot be Level 5 commissioned. Level 5 commissioning requires that a new module be tested in failure mode to ensure that all of its support systems respond as required. Unfortunately, to simulate a failure mode requires power to be turned off to the tested unit, a requirement that is not possible with a shared backplane since all attached units—including those operating in a live environment—would be taken down.
As in the case of pre-fabricated units, containerized data centers are subject to the special, layout and commissioning limitations dictated by they physical structures and use of a common backplane. All of this being said, they are a fantastic solution for companies whose applications work in hundreds of kW load groups.
Standalone data centers differ from their monolithic and pre-fabricated alternatives due to the fact that with these products the data center is the module. Each module is a discrete unit featuring a column free raised floor to maximize configuration flexibility and support mixed load groups within a single facility. Expansion in a standalone environment is a function of adding another data center module to initial unit. Since each unit features its own raised floor, hardened shell, and power center, capacity is added in “chunks”, is Level 5 commissioned and is added based on the customer’s time and budget requirements. Since each unit also feature built-in expansion capability the added modules are contiguously connected to each other.
The continued need to regularly expand will characterize data centers for the foreseeable future. This fact dictates that the ability to add capacity will be an important consideration for any customer seeking a new data center. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the methods of used to expand capacity on the part of potential providers will ensure that your new data center is able to meet your current and future requirements.