Kevin Brown and analyst 451 Research reflect on how data centre design and build have moved forward in the last 40 years. Are prefabricated modular data centres leading the energy efficiency revolution?

In a recent report “Prefabricated Modular Data Centers; 2014 and Beyond”, 451 Research – a leading analyst serving the data centre market – says that the way most operators plan, design and build data centres is still fundamentally the same as it was 40 years ago. Given the significant change in IT system performance over this time, do we really believe this to be the case? Really?

Unfortunately perhaps, I think 451 may have a point. While the data centre industry certainly has made improvements in things such as PUE (power usage effectiveness) I think it is fair to say that these improvements are nothing compared to what we have seen on IT equipment – think of a 60’s era mainframe versus the performance per watt of an HP Moonshot with Atom chips.

Schneider Electric has been promoting the benefits of modularity and standardisation in data centre design for a number of years. These benefits have been embraced by many data centre operators but clearly 451 doesn’t think it is enough to say we’ve matured out of the 60’s yet as an industry.

I agree with them and I think prefabricating data centre is the path to maturity.

It is easy to demonstrate that prefabrication as a design paradigm improves the predictability, efficiency and deployment of our data centres. So why does 451 declare that Prefab data centres are in a prolonged infancy?

Some of the factors they highlight to the slow rate of adoption – it’s a market which has tended to be dominated by smaller manufacturers (which can be viewed as a high risk); there has been a lack of range or depth in the offerings; and finally and importantly, there has been a lack of solid case studies which evidence the business case and effectiveness of prefab solutions.

Shame on us data centre industry. How is it that we see prefabricated solutions in almost every other industry but not ours? How is it that we serve the IT industry which is one of the most globally consistent and standardised in the world and yet haven’t been able to figure out how to realise the better predictability and build process that prefab brings?

I’ve been watching this development for a few years. It’s clear to me that solving the challenges outlined by 451 are pretty straightforward.

In order to realise the benefits of prefabricated data centres the market needs sufficient choice to meet their preferences and constraints – an offering which doesn’t force undo compromises on design decisions.

So, to paraphrase 451, I think it’s time, as an industry, we said goodbye to our infantile 60’s ways and embrace maturity. Do we need to mature? Do we need to change? I think so…..

Kevin Brown is, VP of Global Strategy and Technology for Data Centers, Schneider Electric