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Modular datacentre cheaper than ‘bricks and mortar’ datacentre

Archana Venkatraman

A modular datacentre may cost an enterprise 14% less to deploy than building a traditional bricks and mortar datacentre, according to a research by DCD Intelligence.

There has been a lack of clarity in recent years when it comes to the comparative cost of traditional and modular datacentres, but the research found that the greater density and more efficient use of space mean that modular facilities are able to achieve significantly better power usage effectiveness (PUE) compared to traditional datacentres in many cases, according to DCD Intelligence.

Rows of modular data centers in one of IO's factories

But the prevalence of traditional datacentres in the enterprise segment means the industry could be wasting capital on datacentre deployment, according to the study.

modular datacentre is different from a traditional datacentre in that it is a portable infrastructure designed for rapid deployment, energy efficiency and high density. It can be shipped to anywhere in the world and set up anywhere that has power sources, network connection and cooling equipment.

It also helps businesses save time and cost in building their own datacentre. Many suppliers, including Cisco, VMware, EMC, IO and Sun Microsystems, offer products to help IT executives adopt a modular approach.

One company to achieve datacentre energy efficiency is Capgemini, which has built a modular datacentre called Merlin in Swindon. Currently, the facility has a PUE of between 1.03 and 1.07.

But despite the report’s findings, the issue around datacentre energy-efficiency is far more complex than assuming a modular approach will always offer significant cost savings, warned Chris Drake, lead analyst at DCD Intelligence and author of the white paper.

“It is important to recognise that there are a vast number of modular products available; not all of which offer the same standards and certifications and levels of support to end users,” comments Drake. ”This paper offers the first real cost-comparison of modular versus traditional build. But, as with any market, the potential savings will vary depending on the particular modular solution chosen.”

The report identifies a “significant growth in investment in modular datacentres”. Organisations have been attracted by the shorter timeframe required to plan and deploy a datacentre, as well as the reduced complexity and enhanced performance, it cited.

Another company to use a modular datacentre approach is Goldman Sachs. The bank hopes the modular datacentre technology will help it improve the energy conservation and PUE associated with its datacentre facilities.

“Participating in this project gave us the opportunity to get independent insight into the costs of the modular approach to building datacentres and traditional methods,” said Victor Smith, product director for Colt, a datacentre and colocation provider. “We’ve known for some time that the benefits of a modular approach, in particular around costs and efficiency, are very compelling. This study however offers an impartial comparison and view.”

But some users and operators of modular datacentres appeared to be unclear and unconvinced about the absolute cost savings of such facilities, the study found.

“Every new market or technology is misunderstood early in its life cycle, and modular datacentres are no exception,” said Troy Rutman, director of corporate communications for IO, a modular datacentre provider that also participated in the study. 

“The DCD Intelligence project offered real information on modular solutions and particularly the cost benefits versus traditional datacentre builds. By collaborating with DCD Intelligence, we ensured that we can offer our customers neutral educational information that will play a substantial role in determining the future of the datacentre industry.”


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