Pre-fab data centres are a reality, and containers are reaching places we wouldn’t have expected, says Peter Judge. All sizes are catered for
Pre-fabricated buildings have a way of becoming permanent. It looks like the data centre industry has cottoned to that, and is now selling a range of options to people who want different kinds of data centres.
Essentially, we have full-on pre-fabricated data centres, such as that provided by Colt to Verne Global in Iceland, which are being offered alongside containers, such as those used by HP to supply Airbus’ high-performance computing needs. There are even micro-modular data centres – consisting of one rack in a box.
And I think they all have their place.
Homes for heroes
The word “pre-fab” has interesting resonances. After the Second world War, the British government built 156,000 temporary homes, universally known as “pre-fabs”, to replace bomb-damaged homes. They were designed for easy construction on-site, and easy connection to services such as water, electricity, gas and sewage, which entered through one central core.
These temporary homes were so successful that, more than sixty years on, some are still occupied, even though they now would not pass modern building regulations. Residents of Excalibur Village in Lewisham, South London are fighting to have their homes listed as a heritage site and stave off demolition. I should addhere, that as a former Lewisham resident, I think the Excalibur Estate deserves protection.
Long-lived data centres
In the data centre world, Colt’s predictions for the logevity of its modular data centres might be equally surprising. From its plans, it clearly sees the modular approach competing with bespoke data centres, and not just on price. The modular approach can be more efficient and will certainly be quicker to deliver, says Colt.
In Iceland, Verne Global is using the modular system in part of the site, and plans to carry on with bespoke data centres for larger customers. Colt says its system produces large contiguous spaces which are as good as a “proper” data centre, and better than the cramped confines of containers.
Meanwhile, though, containers are continuing to surprise me. First thought of for temporary processing power in developing countries or war zones, they have proved as resilient and versatile as those post-war prefabs, with HP in particular seeing the concept ramping up, and responding accordingly.
The Airbus project is a long way from a war zone, and its previous supercomputing needs have been met by conventional data centres, but this time round, the group decided that containers gave it economic capacity in the right timescale.
Containers conquering this sort of deal backs up HP’s opinion that containers have a general purpose future.
And what of micro-modules? We’ve yet to hear of significant users, but the concept of efficiency in small bite-sized modules strikes us as good. They’ll never have the conomies of scale that a container or a modular system does – but getting your green data one rack at a time should suit a lot of people.