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Containerised Datacentres: The Future Or Just A Niche Solution?

Datacentres are a big capital expense so organisations need to give their deployment considerably more thought than they would buying a server or a piece of software. Added to which the churn is faster with IT equipment and the power density is also increasing as companies try to cram more compute, storage and network capacity into scarce datacentre space.

Traditional datacentre facilities come with an array of complexities, customisations and considerations. One of the struggles the industry has today is that as the performance of devices rapidly increases and the ubiquity of the internet unfolds, our strategies around building the IT infrastructures to support them needs to rapidly evolve too and failures to do so is resulting in issues which negatively impact the business process. 

For example, 84% of datacentres have had issues with power, space, cooling capacity, assets and uptime.  

  • 31% - Delay in application rollouts
  • 30% - Disrupted ability to provide service to customers
  • 27% - Forced to spend unplanned OPEX budget
  • 26% - Need to roll back an application deployment.*

 

That said, attitudes are changing and in the past decade, organisations have learned to think of their IT acquisitions at the rack level, rolling gear in and out of the datacentre as complete, modular components of the IT infrastructure, usually on a three-year cycle. But the datacentre is different. Or at least it was until the arrival of containerised and modularised datacentres.

In the wake of the dotcom recession datacentres built from standard 40ft metal shipping containers were championed by a few IT vendors and hyperscale datacentre operators, as well as the military. However, although shipping containers might be perfect for remote datacentres or hyperscale facilities that are accessed rarely, it may be hard to imagine getting a shipping-container-like box with server racks and cabling inside and plugging it into a power source and being happy with the result. So is this really the future for datacentres or are containerised databases just a specialised niche solution? 

Today, the rapidly maturing containerised and/modular datacentre facility (CMDF) platforms on offer within the industry can enable organisations to realise significant and demonstrated technical and business value when properly applied. This value comes from the repeatable, pre-engineered, prefabricated, and quality-assured set of building blocks that together bring online the necessary amount of IT capacity. 

Containerised power and cooling plants also allow datacentre designers to shift their thinking from a customised “construction” mentality to a standardised “site integration” mentality. CMDF architecture has become an increasingly viable and robust alternative when considering a datacentre build, with multiple implementation approaches from various suppliers in the industry.

So when datacentre stakeholders are faced with the challenge of deploying new datacentre power and cooling infrastructure is it better for them to convert an existing room within the building (if that is even an option) or to construct an extension to house the additional equipment required? Or is it more cost effective and technically feasible to opt for a containerised solution offering pre-engineered, pre-assembled/integrated, and pre-tested datacentre physical infrastructure systems delivered as standardised “plug-in” modules to a datacentre site. 

Clearly this contrasts with the traditional approach of provisioning physical infrastructure for a datacentre with unique one-time engineering, and all assembly, installation, and integration occurring at the construction site however the benefits of a containerised solution cannot be ignored with cost savings, time savings, simplified planning, improved reliability, improved agility, higher efficiency and a higher level of vendor accountability all proven.

The containerised/modular approach to construction and deployment of a datacentre guarantees rapid deployment, lower operating and capital costs and will be equipped with higher density and energy-savings targets. Standardised, pre-assembled and integrated datacentre facility power and cooling modules are at least 60% faster to deploy and provide a first cost savings of 13% or more compared to traditional datacentre power and cooling infrastructure.  Cost savings are even more dramatic (30% or more) when the traditional datacentre is overbuilt in capacity and provisioned upfront with typical power and cooling systems and controls.

Furthermore, traditional datacentre designs are somewhat fragmented since the various pieces of equipment (servers, HVAC, power distribution) are all designed assuming worst case scenarios so there is significant cost in the design margins. With modularised and containerised designs, an optimised ecosystem can be built with the right amount of power, cooling, capacity needed, etc. because of its balanced system design which in turn offers a whole range of other advantages:

  • Substantial Time Savings:
    Typically just 6-8 weeks for a reference design.
  • Can be deployed at scale:
    A module can be delivered with 400 to 2,000 servers pre-wired, tested and ready to go in a couple of hours since all of the tests and networking are completed at the factory.
  • Risk Adverse:
    Standard controlled & proven design factory build environment. Nothing is unique and everything is constantly value engineered. Eliminates stranded capacity, increases reliability and provides guarantees such as PuE ratios.
  • Plug and play:
    Just turn on & go! Installation is easy with nothing more than a power connection, a water connection (for cooling) and a data connection.
  • Pay as you grow:
    Completely modular, scalable and mobile. Moves cost from upfront investment to server deployment: One of the big advantages for containerised and modular datacentres is the fact that you pay as you go since the power, cooling and IT scale together. This really delays capital costs but also eliminates the unused capacity as the datacentre is filling up which provides huge cost savings.Substantial Time Savings:


In conclusion, today’s economic realities can make it increasingly difficult for organisations to bear the brunt of the heavy upfront costs and extended construction times required for building a traditional datacentre. Today’s sophisticated, pre-engineered and pre-fabricated containerised solutions offer a technically viable and cost-effective alternative which allows the planning cycle to switch from an onsite construction focus to onsite integration of pre-manufactured, pre-tested blocks of power and cooling. This can significantly reduce the potential quality and time risks typically found in traditional fixed-facility, site-constructed approaches and enables organisations to deploy IT equipment, capacity, and services in less time, for less cost, and under new and more business-appropriate delivery and costing models. 

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