Modular data centers: Should you jump on the bandwagon?


16 September 2014
Nick Parfitt of DCD Intelligence

Data centres are the backbone of any successful organisation in today’s digital age. However, the challenges associated with data centres are all too real - for instance, traditional data centers consume tremendous amounts of electricity and contribute to air pollution in the form of diesel exhaust and pertinently, the high operational costs.

The solution to these problems may lie in the form of modular data centres, which are fast rising in Asia. According to the DCD Intelligence 2013 White Paper on modular versus traditional data centres, the key reason why modular solutions are seen as a better alternative is because of their ability to minimise ongoing costs. Modular end users find that they have greater control of overall operations costs, which makes the costs of data centre deployment a lot more predictable.

The rise of modular data centres in Asia

Many emerging markets in Asia have recognised the potential and benefits that modular solutions offer to both owners and operators. The more recently established markets in South East Asia outside of Singapore have seen some of the highest rates of investment in modular data centres. In Asia, the three countries in particular where modular solutions are growing at a rapid rate are Indonesia, India and Mainland China. According to the DCD Intelligence Data Centre Trends 2013-2014: Asia Pacific, the number of organisations investing in modular solutions increased by 12 per cent in Indonesia and India and by 15 per cent in Mainland China from 2013-2014.

This growth is due to the fact that modular centres have the ability to be self-contained and self-sufficient, which is a significant advantage as they are able to function under variable and more difficult operating conditions. For example, in markets that face issues such as power instability, modular data centres are a much better alternative.

Containerised solutions are also seeing huge growth in this region and the ability to operate in challenging environments is another reason for strong growth of modular data centres in nascent and “embryonic” markets, such as Cambodia and Myanmar.

With the rising popularity of modular data centres, does this then mean that everyone should jump on the modular data centre bandwagon? Possibly not.

When to use a modular data centre

Regardless of whether a data centre is traditional or modular in build, it will have similar requirements related to security, provision of water, staff, supplies, and vendor support, and authorisation. Since both types have similar requirements, organisations have to analyse the risk and return of the design and build methodology. The accuracy and robustness of the research and analysis that is conducted as part of the initial decision making process has a huge impact. This process is not likely to be limited to the means of the build but possibly include options such as outsourcing, cloud deployment, the extension or refresh of current facilities, migration, and consolidation.

Although there are many merits for using modular centres, there are some instances when they may be unsuitable. Some situations where modular data centres may not be appropriate include:

  • Reliance on high performance computing
  • Concerns about being locked into a single supplier
  • A need to ensure compatibility with the existing equipment across a portfolio

Considering the current market landscape and variety of offerings available today, organisations need to keep in mind several factors when planning to invest in modular data centres:

  1. Use the strategic IT requirements of your organisation as the yardstick for the adoption of the right technology.
  2. Factor in all of the costs along the entire data centre lifecycle (“TCO”) that have to do with planning, designing and running a new data centre, including site costs, hardware and software purchase, build costs, ongoing costs of energy, staffing, security, taxes, maintenance and repair, as well as decommissioning costs.
  3. Do research on the large number of solutions that are available as they operate on a number of different standards, certification and support levels.  It will be beneficial to shop around and to seek advice from organisations that have undergone a similar process.

Modular data centres are definitely gaining traction in Asia and more organisations are looking towards investing in them. Organisations also need to remember that while the terms “modular” and “containerized” are used almost generically, there is an increasing variety of sophistication and capability within each category. Therefore the decision making needs to focus on the increasing number of options within each type and also compare this to their needs before deciding on either a modular data centre or traditional data centre model. 

  • Nick Parfitt is a lead analyst with DCD Intelligence.