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The Edge of Modular Data Centers

By Camelia Mititelu , April 9, 2019

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The expansion of edge computing, powered by the Internet of Thing’s (IoT) uprising tide, brings the unique opportunity to turn a world full of data into a data-driven world. Many applications of IoT, such as industrial automation processes, smart healthcare, and self-driving cars, require a compute infrastructure that sits closer to the devices and users, to enable a quick response and to unload some of the processing work from the cloud centralized platforms. The same data center that reduced its footprint and migrated into the cloud a decade earlier is now returning to the network edge. According to research firm MarketsandMarkets, the edge computing market is expected to surge from $1.47 billion in 2017 to $6.72 billion in 2022, at a compounded annual growth rate of 35.4 percent. To this end, the innovation effort at the edge brings new products and services.

Today, the edge data center’s solution providers are confronted with a non-traditional approach of computing that must ensure a low latency of the collection and the analysis of data from wireless sensors, artificial intelligence applications, or specific digital platforms. This means that all software compute, storage and network connectivity must be located on the application’s premises – e.g., factory floor, bank branch - requiring an optimized, mobile and scalable infrastructure.

Companies on the fast growth path of edge computing are looking at an infrastructure that must be fast deployed, sometimes, to locations that are not equipped with means to host a data center.  Also, modular solutions are an efficient way to allocate funding in smaller amounts to defer spending on a brick-and-mortar data center and to keep pace with the technology demands. An advantage of modular data centers is future flexibility and growth in the IT space that can be configured to support variable load densities ( as high as 20 kW per rack).  If efficient operations and control of your data center are a goal, then modular data centers are a perfect fit for these edge compute applications.

A modular data center is simply defined as a mobile method of deploying data center capacity. Many data center owners are deploying modular data center to accelerate a data center expansion or an installation of a combined modular data center into a single system; anywhere data capacity is needed. Since all the components of a modular data center are standardized and come assembled, the deployment takes only a few weeks until the final start-up. Quick deployment of these modules provides business continuity by ensuring there is no operations disruption, which is an advantage in this highly competitive industry.

Modular solutions are converged infrastructure systems, designed with portable and scalable capabilities, coming in two different form factors: a containerized and a mobile microdata center. Both types of modular data centers are outfitted with their own power and cooling infrastructure, network equipment, Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), security, monitoring, and control solutions and even their own fire detection system. The racks of modular data centers are customizable in size, and some have a NEMA rated construction, protecting the IT equipment in harsh environments and from the weather elements. Lastly, when the assembled modules are delivered to the site, it is a relatively simple matter to connect the power and bring online. 

Some of these data centers come pre-loaded with software, all network connections, storage, servers, and power and cooling components which reduce equipment procurement and installation cost. Space utilization brings reduced real estate as well as low energy consumption, which is a major cost for businesses, today. Cooling efficiency is another appealing feature of a modular data center: according to data from Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI), modular data centers provide 40 percent greater energy efficiency than a traditional data center. Because of this fact, the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of modular data centers is often reported in the lower ranges of this metric. When choosing a modular data center, it is important to specify a data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software to provide visibility into the equipment’s integration and operation.

The modular design and construction of these data centers can significantly improve time-to-commissioning compared to an implementation of a traditional data center, which represents cost savings in time and money for the owner.  For these modular data centers, the commissioning process can be done before deployment, in a controlled factory environment, where testing and verification of modular components integration can save valuable time in coordination and repair cost. It is a good practice to have a commissioning process in place that ensures that the modular infrastructure is optimized and the deployment site is prepared to meet the requirements of the edge and IoT compute strategy, reducing risk and providing insights into the operation with necessary documentation.

The upcoming technologies of 5G wave, Industry 4.0, IoT, artificial intelligence and self-driving vehicles will face the challenge of the continuously connected customer, the demand for capacity, bandwidth and low latency. Modular data centers are shaping up to be the solution to address these needs and manage networks at the edge. Their unique architecture, low capital cost, and optimal energy efficiency will significantly impact the global data center market with exponential growth in the future.

 

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About the Author:

Mititelu, CameliaCamelia Mititelu - camelia.mititelu@cagents.com 

Camelia is a highly experienced and results-driven senior engineering with an extensive record of success in advanced design and project management for HVAC and process piping infrastructure, clean room and environmentally controlled lab systems, energy conservation, control optimization, and operation for manufacturing facilities. Skilled in all phases of industrial and commercial facility lifecycles, as well as mission critical facilities operation, from feasibility and sustainability analysis through design and construction to delivery, energy management optimization and auditing.

Topics: Commissioning and Sustainability, Building Commissioning, Data Centers