What Does Data Center Modularity Mean to You?

The word du jour at least in the data center space is "Modularity". The only word used more often and loosely in the IT space is "Cloud".  Even though the two words "Modularity" and "Cloud" are hyped, it doesn't mean there aren't real opportunities in both areas of technology. The trick is in understanding how the terms should be used, and where and how they should be applied.

Definition of Modularity:

-        Designed with standardized units or dimensions, as for easy assembly and repair or flexible arrangement and use: modular furniture; (borrowed from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/modularity)

Interestingly most people ascribe the definition above to the building of modular data centers. Sadly, this definition doesn't do a modern data center any justice, nor does it buy the data center owner what they really need.

In simple terms many of us assume a modular data center is one that can be built incrementally with standardized blocks of capacity.  Building data centers is a CapEx intensive endeavor, so anything you can do to reduce your exposure is a good thing. However, if the only thing you consider when building your data center is whether you have enough "space", then you're missing several critical areas of opportunity and cost management.

Data Centers are first and foremost warehouses, highly technical and very expensive warehouses, but warehouses all the same. In a typical warehouse for furniture you might not have anything more critical from a functional design characteristic than how big the doors are and how high the ceiling is. Once you've got those critical considerations accommodated then it's just a bunch of common use space. What if the warehouse were a multipurpose facility that had different security and temperature requirements? Now try to build more space on this facility with a single variety building block. You'll start to see that since your capacity for refrigerated space was very small, but your high security area was large you end up with a mismatch of need, which equals wasted space and wasted cash.

With today's "modular" data centers you're buying chunks of data center capacity that are all built to a specific standard

               Example: Tier III and 5kW per cabinet (or 300 Watts per square foot)

A standard building block of capacity is great if you always need that exact standard. What happens when you need a portion of space that can efficiently handle 25kW per cabinet or maybe you need 50 cabinets of Tier IV. Now you're beginning to see where the efficiency assumptions in many of today's modular data centers begin to let you down. But the issue is really more complex than my simple analogy above, creating a modular data center means that you have direct management of the expansion or contraction of any of the primary service capabilities of your facility. These service capabilities include, power density, cooling, space, and physical durability among others. How could you possibly future proof your facility for a 15 - 20 year lifespan if the day it's built it has the same capabilities it will have when it's retired. Do you really want to own another large data center that's "full", but has lots of empty cabinet and floor space?

So when you're shopping for data center space, do your homework and make sure you give the often used but rarely supported modularity message a real test before you buy.



Couldn't agree more

Too many times, end users are led to believe that when they build or build out a datacenter space, it will be 'future-proof'.  Most of the time, it falls to the solution provider to point out how the end user needs to keep the space flexible, and truly build a 'pay-as-you-grow' architecture from scratch.