Benefits of prefabricated modular data centres


31 August 2023

Russell Bulley, senior application engineer, AC Power, at Vertiv, explores an evolution for the data centre industry.

The global data centre sector is experiencing a profound shift as it responds to the escalating demand for digital services from hyperscalers and enterprises worldwide. To keep pace with this ever-increasing demand and evolving requirements, data centres are undergoing a remarkable transformation - evolving into more efficient and adaptive infrastructures and assuming the role of central hubs for hybrid networks, connecting and facilitating the seamless flow of data. 

A key enabler of this transformation is the growing adoption of standardised construction, which offers numerous benefits for data centre operators. Standardisation - ranging from modular components, such as skids supporting power and cooling systems, to fully-fledged prefabricated data centres - will become the default approach not just for the enterprise, but also for hyperscalers and edge computing. In this article, we will explore the driving forces behind their adoption, with an emphasis on the critical aspect of cooling, carbon reduction and cost efficiencies.

Exploring the rise of prefabricated modular data centres

The need for speedy scalability and easy deployment in the realm of data centres has become increasingly prominent in recent years. And as technology continues to advance, businesses leverage data-driven operations, and energy costs continue to rise, the demand for flexible and energy-efficient data centre solutions has surged.

It's certain that prefabricated facilities are a compelling solution to address the challenges posed by traditional data centre construction when IT space is needed quickly. These modular designs integrate critical components such as advanced cooling systems and power distribution within controlled factory conditions. This kind of manufacturing environment allows for meticulous quality control and off-site testing so that each module meets stringent performance standards before being deployed to the final location.

Why prefabrication makes sense

One of the key advantages of prefabricated modular data centres is their accelerated construction timeline versus traditional data centre construction. By leveraging off-site fabrication and assembly, these modular units can be commissioned and deployed rapidly. The factory environment enables parallel construction processes, significantly reducing the time required for on-site assembly and integration. At the same time, assembly staff are repeating skills on concurrent projects, honing those skills and finding better installation solutions. This expedited deployment allows businesses to quickly respond to changing needs, such as sudden increases in data processing requirements or the establishment of new IT locations.

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Prefabricated modular data centres can be delivered with security already in place. As the units are constructed off-site and then transported to the final location, security measures can be implemented during the manufacturing process. By integrating security during the initial construction phase, operators can avoid potential vulnerabilities or delays associated with retrofitting security measures after the data centre is installed. This proactive approach enhances the overall reliability and integrity of the data centre, mitigating risks from the outset and enabling the immediate protection of critical infrastructure.

Again, for speed, the building works of modular data centres can be undertaken at the same time that the unit is being constructed off-site. This approach saves time and increases efficiency, as various components and systems can be fabricated simultaneously. For example, electrical and mechanical works can progress alongside the construction of the modular unit, reducing overall project duration, and design and installation can be certified by an independent body in the factory before dispatch, endorsing compliance with industry standards and regulations. Operators can test and inspect the data centre at the factory before it is dispatched, further enhancing quality and functionality. 

Cooling systems play a vital role in maintaining data centre uptime and allowing maximum operating efficiency. But it also uses a substantial amount of energy, accounting for up to 40% of a data centre’s total energy bill. Prefabricated facilities are designed to incorporate cutting-edge cooling technologies, which can reduce energy and water consumption while improving overall operating costs. By integrating these solutions during the manufacturing process, the data centre operators can seamlessly integrate the cooling systems and optimise them for effectiveness.

As well as efficiencies during initial set up and installation, prefabricated modular data centres simplify maintenance processes which can be made available from a single vendor if the majority of components are supplied by that vendor. With the modular approach, replacement parts are readily available and by minimising service issues and optimising maintenance procedures, operational reliability can be enhanced - leading to improved customer satisfaction.

Ultimately, with all of the benefits outlined above, prefabricated data centres have a positive impact on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), which is critical in an economic environment where budgets are limited. The modular nature of these data centres enables organisations to scale their infrastructure in line with demand, eliminating the need for excessive upfront investment and avoiding overprovisioning by utilising modular components such as cooling systems that can be expanded as the IT load increases over time. 

Demand driven by different trends in different regions

It's important to note that the reasons for the adoption of prefabricated modular data centre solutions vary across different regions, depending on specific market conditions and trends. In EMEA for example, major hyperscalers are driving the adoption of these solutions, particularly in remote areas where larger standardised modules can be easily deployed; Africa is experiencing significant growth in data centre capacity, with increasing adoption of prefabricated solutions aligned with data privacy laws; North America benefits from the speed and ease of deployment, helping organisations meet unprecedented capacity demand; Latin America is establishing itself as an emerging market for these solutions, whilst the Asia-Pacific region faces challenges due to a shortage of skilled labour and preferences for traditional data centre builds.

Regardless of the differences between territories, it’s an exciting time ahead for the industry and businesses alike. The demand for prefabricated modular data centres represents a significant shift in the data centre industry, driven by the common need for scalability and rapid deployment as proven by a survey from Omdia which revealed that 52%  of companies operating their own data centres already use prefabricated modular data centre technology, with 99% stating that it would be part of their future strategy.