Modular Data Centers: The Next Generation in Data Center Design


Scott MullerBy Scott Muller

Scott Muller is a Senior Project Manager with Rimrock Technology, a BCER Group, focused on mechanical, electrical, plumbing and telecommunications design for complex facilities. 


Modular Data Center (MDC) design is an emerging and practical solution for organizations looking to scale their infrastructure quickly. An MDC is a custom-built, self-contained data center designed to meet customer requirements for performance, compute power, reliability and security. 

I’ve seen the results first hand. When a major Denver-based utility company began planning the reconstruction of its 100-year-old campus, the relocation of its data center presented many challenges, including the need for continuous operation during construction. As the current location was to be demolished, the utility group considered either relocation to a soon to be constructed warehouse building, or allocation of space in a new administration building. However, space in the new administration building was at a premium and the warehouse environment was not secure. Both options limited future flexibility.

The ultimate solution – an MDC – offered the flexibility, expandability and scalability the utility company needed to meet current and future performance requirements. The MDC could be placed anywhere on the campus capable of supporting redundant data and electrical feeds. The company selected a location with room for expansion and access to utility power, a backup generator and fiber distribution. The site easily accommodated the addition of expansion modules without disrupting continuous operation. 

The MDC was made to customer specifications including: 24 to 30 cabinets of white space; 300 to 500 kW of compute capacity; build room; secure environment; self-contained mechanical and electrical systems with integrated in-row cooling; and expansion capabilities with an additional module to add 12 or more cabinets. While this was not a large data center, the concept is the same for 300 or 3,000 square feet of white space. Building and commissioning the data center off site avoided the complications of building in a construction zone and enabled the MDC to go from delivery to operation in 30 to 60 days. 

The MDC was constructed in three modules: build room and entry vestibule, mechanical and electrical systems and white space. The modules were trucked to the site, hoisted by crane on to a preconfigured concrete pad with power and fiber connections, aligned and bolted together all in a single day. Over the next 30 days, electrical, mechanical and data connections were completed, followed by load-bank testing and commissioning. Finally, the data center was turned over to the owner for server deployment and internal testing.

The MDC design and just-in-time deployment met increasingly demanding timelines and performance requirements. Installation on a standalone concrete pad avoided encroachment on future expansion space and provided inherent security, further bolstered by extensive video surveillance and mantraps with dual authentication card access. As a solution unfettered by the walls of a traditional building that provides autonomy from existing operations and supports redundant and scalable infrastructure, the Modular Data Center is a superior option for organizations looking to build, relocate or expand their data centers.

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