Data center discussion part III: Overcoming barriers in finding the right image in a risk averse industry

The benefits of modular data centers are obvious to those who know them intimately, however, work remains convincing a sceptical industry

21 November 2011 by Ambrose McNevin - DatacenterDynamics

Data center discussion part III: Overcoming barriers in finding the right image in a risk averse industry
Peter Gross

Part III of the data center discussion...

PETER GROSS ASKS: What are, in your opinion, the operational benefits of themodular, pre-fabricated data center?

Guy Ruddock Answers:

Standardization and simplification are the watchwords of an engineered data center, be it a modular or a containerized facility. From an operational viewpoint this means that the processes and procedures are consistent across the estate. Assuming the product to be well engineered they should also be straightforward, because they will have been suitably ‘polished’ during the lifecycle of the product. Finally the basis of the design is such that the form factor tends to be smaller across the facility and as a result the materials are usually standard stock items, which often makes them cheaper.

However, the greatest benefit is usually realized at 3am on a wet Tuesday morning by a maintenance engineer called in to deal with a remote alarm. He knows what the unit does, how it works and the likely failures — because this one is exactly the same as all the other ones he has in his estate.

George Slessman Answers:

Based on our experience in running IO Phoenix DC6 and IO New Jersey DC1, which are both multi-MW modular data centers using the IO Anywhere platform and the IO Operating System, the top five operational benefits of a true modular data center platform are:
1. Reduction in data center capex of 50% or more;
2. Operating expense reduction for energy, maintenance, and support of up to 30%;
3. A 90-day procurement cycle, matching the IT procurement cycle for everything else;
4. Just-in-time delivery and provisioning that allow staged capitaldeployment and the ability to scale up or down as the need demands;
5. Dramatically higher effective PUE’s from higher utilization rates and integrated system operations, because power and cooling are designed and manufactured to work together.

GEORGE SLESSMAN ASKS: What do you see as the single most significant barrier to adoption of a modular data center 2.0 strategy by enterprise data center users?

Guy Ruddock Answers:

Image is a big part. Many data centers are used as both housing for important equipment and as a ‘tourist location’ for executive teams and customers.

Often these teams are unfamiliar with modern data center design, but are aware of traditional monolithic halls with rows of identical cabinets and hence expect to see exactly that. As many of these people have a very strong impact on the funding of data center projects, it is inevitable that the CIO will wish to see something that meets these additional corporate requirements. As many modular data centers tend to use shipping containers these willalways have an image problem in those critical high level meetings.

Functionality, flexibility and accessibility is critical to the on-site engineers and data center managers. In the Colt product this was one of the design briefs — the data center must look like a traditional data center to the casual onlooker — alongside that we needed to make them flexible to cater for awide range of customer requirements — as a result the visitors to our data centers are wowed when they walk in. The expect a container, they get a traditional look and feel and more options than you can shake a stick at.

Peter Gross Answers:

There is no secret that the data center industry has always been extremely risk averse which unfortunately has, to a certain degree, stifled innovation. Modular and containerized data centers are relatively new and many decision makers in the data center space want more validation before making a decision, and that only comes with time. However, compared to other developments that took a very long time to gain acceptance, the prefabricated modular or the containerized solutions have had a rapid favorable reception. After all, in today’s environment, it is difficult to reject a solutionthat costs less, is more energy efficient, more flexible and has a much shorter deployment cycle.

Ultimately though, all three options, conventional brick and mortar, prefabricated modular and containerized will have a place in the data center spectrum. The decision will be driven by the solution that is best aligned to the business needs.

GUY RUDDOCK ASKS: With the simplification of the data center product, will we see the advent of a move from ‘beautiful’ to ‘functional’ data centers?

Peter Gross Answers:

It is a bit difficult to assess the importance of the facility look, althoughhistorically, there are many examples of data centers expected to also make an architectural statement. Things are very different today; users want anonymity and security, in addition to performance and functionality. They don’t want the outside world to look at their data centers or even know they exist. The data center of the future will be industrialized and highly standardized. That’s the only way to reduce costs and delivery cycle. Whether this trend will translate into an esthetically pleasing facility is a highly subjective matter.

George Slessman Answers:

We should aspire to elegance in engineering and design no matter whatthe delivery method for IT infrastructure. I would be surprised that the right answer to this problem would be anything but elegant and beautiful.

GUY RUDDOCK ASKS: Will the speed and efficiency of new data center delivery models, change the way the clients consider the purchasing process, specifically the speed of the decision-making and how they plan for future capacity?

Peter Gross Answers:

Yes, the fundamental difference is that the modular and the containerized data centers are essentially products, which changes drastically the way they are purchased. Instead of going through some form of the traditional design-bid-built, they will be purchased based on a specification that documents the performance requirements. Ultimately, these types of data centers will be purchased very similarly to the way servers or other infrastructure components are bought.

As Guy mentioned earlier, some customers are keen on preserving the general attributes of a conventional data center; others don’t seem to care, as long as the main objectives-cost, speed, energy and flexibility are met. Either way, standardization will drive the emphasis towards supply chain management and logistics.

George Slessman Answers:

Absolutely yes. Otherwise we have not solved the real economic problem of data centers: they take too long to deploy and they cost too much.

The Data center discussion on modularity continues in Part IV

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