A Few Thoughts on Pre-Fabricated Data Centers

While the concept of pre-fabricated data centers is nothing new, we’ve recently noticed an elevated level of dialogue on the topic. The term “pre-fabricated” was first applied to data centers approximately 10-12 years ago. At that time, the industry standard was a reconstituted and retrofitted ISO container jam-packed with racks, servers, power, and cooling equipment. For the most part, those solutions were ugly and their arrival was met with limited appeal. (Sorry Sun. Even when the containers were painted black, they were still an eyesore.)

Today, manufacturers have added aesthetics to their repertoire and many are delivering pre-engineered data centers that one could almost call “nice looking”. ISO containers are still in use, but after years of trying to force them on us, manufacturers have finally realized that form actually follows function, and not the other way around.

But who really cares about how a data center looks? If the exterior appearance of a mission critical data center truly mattered, the Ashburn Virginia skyline at sunrise would not be the color of precast concrete.

On the inside, a modern pre-fab data center is rather hard to distinguish from its stick-built office building counterpart. With ample lighting and spacing, one doesn’t have to feel like a cave dweller spelunking through the hot aisle.

Major power, cooling, and fire protection components are accessible and serviceable. Clearly, a great deal of thought has been devoted to the subject of what happens after commissioning.

Pre-fab data centers range in size from single rack “edge” solutions to full-fledged buildings housing dozens of cabinets. The key selling point to pre-fabricated data centers has always been speed to market. As a premier designer and builder of data centers for two decades, it’s easy to see how this could be true. However, when compared to a cage in a colocation facility, or a more traditional commercial building data center, pre-fab doesn’t beat the competition hands down in every category. Cost, for one, can be an unwelcome accessory of a pre-fabricated data center.

For now, buyers have lots of options. For those said to be returning from the cloud to on-prem data centers, as well as those who never left, the choices include:
1) A custom-designed in-building data center
2) A pre-engineered solution in the parking lot

And yes, there are even a few options in the margin between these two. To make the right choice, buyers need to weigh the difference in cost, schedule, security, convenience, and control.

One day soon, we may be able to visit a website, select a prefabricated data center, and have it shipped with a single click. Until then, the best way to find the right solution is by contacting Compu Dynamics.

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