Schneider Electric prefabricated DC modules
8 April 2014 | 0
Whereas a data centre in a container was once the preserve of the military, NGOs in emergency response areas or oil and gas prospectors in seismically unstable regions, there is now a recognition that prefabricated data modules can either plug a gap in existing IT infrastructure, or form the basis of a predictable, scalable expanding infrastructure.
Schneider Electric is at the forefront of this trend and its expertise goes back quite a few years in the area.
Dushy Goonawardhane, business development manager, Pre-Fab Data Centres and Infrastructure Solutions EMEA, Schneider Electric, said that the company developed a DC in a container as far back as 2006.
However, the offering was a little ahead of the market then and did not exactly fly out of the warehouses. Demand then, reports Goonawardhane, came from remote and offshore deployment needs, also from government and military. There was a need for ruggedised infrastructure that was easily transportable, seismically and magnetically shielded.
The acquisition of a specialist in the area, AST, added to Schneider’s exiting expertise in the power and cooling side of things and further work was done to develop the concept for a more mainstream customer base.
Development went on having racks and cabling systems that were suitable for the space, allowing for the same kind of access and usage as would be seen in a bricks and mortar DC. Initially, said Goonawardhane, the requirements were for ISO standard containers, which left little room for access around racks full of standardised network gear and servers.
Containers that are “wider and longer that give more space to work inside,” said Goonawardhane. AST had developed certain technologies that were folded into the Schneider portfolio which allowed it to offer a more robust solution.
“AST has perfected the ‘flat-pack’, prefabricated partition blocks. These could have electromagnetic shielding, and you could take it on pallets to remote sites and install it in two weeks, with or without a raised floor.”
When most people think of prefabricated, there is a fixed idea of what that entails.
“The other notion is that prefabricated has to be a module, a container — it doesn’t.”
Prefabricated, and flat pack in particular, can be either environmentally shielded, or just assembled inside a building, depending on need, said Goonawardhane.
The key benefits of prefab in this context are about flexibility, cost, lead times and deployment, but also, Goonawardhane emphasises, predictability.
Schneider Electric’s prefab DC systems have lead times between 12 and 16 weeks, with 20 weeks form purchase order (PO) to populated, running DC. The systems are pre-integrated, pre-tested and guaranteed.
This gives a level of predictability, both in terms of cost and planning that allows a business to focus early on usage and not procurement.
In flexibility, Goonawardhane points out that certain companies may have specific goals, such as compute capacity, or rapidly changing business processes or models, that can benefit from flexibility of being able to configure as necessary and have short lead times. He highlights one example from the realms of motorsport where there was a commitment to keep at the cutting edge of compute power by doubling computing power capacity in regular time intervals.
Goonawardhane warns that some of the claimed cost benefits may not necessarily by true, but that there are compelling financial arguments.
There are some misconceptions around costs, he admits, with many portraying it prefab as being around 50% of the cost of a conventional data centre. This is not always the case, he warns, depending on what is required and where. But he does argue that the cost is rarely significantly more, and when combined with the lead and implementation time savings, still make a compelling alternative to conventional DCs.
The argument, said Goonawardhane, is that the level of specification and customisation, combined with predictability and speed of procurement and deployment reduces much of the financial risk associated with DCs. Therefore, though the unit costs may not be less than traditional DC investments, the overall business and financial risks are significantly reduced.
In terms of demand, Goonawardhane predicts the growth of developing nations to support mobile users will drive prefab DC usage.
As developing nations come online, as with telephony technologies, whole generations of technology may be leap-frogged, argues Goonawardhane, as demand must be met quickly, but also as cheaply as possible.
“I see most of that coming from the mobile operators,” he says.