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Chris Wellfair, projects director at Secure I.T. Environments Ltd, looks at the latest entry into the modular data centre world, the “containerised data centre”
It can be a real puzzle to juggle budgets, priorities, and sometimes just the sheer logistics of where to place a data centre facility. Modular internal and external data centres meeting BS476 / EN 1047 test standards – regarded as the benchmark standard for data centres – have helped clients in the public sector to overcome many of these challenges, when both upgrading and expanding. They can be cost effective and provide LPS 1175 secure facilities within an existing building or at an external location. A modular room can facilitate the location of data centres in creative ways, where it would be inappropriate to have a new build, either because of planning laws or space.
But there is now an alternative adding a new perspective to the modular option. You’ve probably heard the term ‘containerised data centre’ and associate it with huge data centre projects, such as those run by the public cloud vendors with tens of thousands of servers and the need for constant growth. In those instances, they are chosen for speed, cost effectiveness and ease of installation, but those benefits are not only true when working at scale. There are several scenarios where a containerised data centre might be just right for you, even if you are a much smaller business.
Containerised solutions allow for compact data centres helping resolve space, deployment time, build complexity and cost challenges.
They are very flexible and can perform very well in both low- or high-density server applications. By designing them correctly to ensure concurrent maintainability and energy efficiency, return of Investment can be achieved within four–five years. In an emergency, containerised solutions can also shine as part of a disaster recovery plan, fitted out and ready to be rapidly deployed into operational use.
Speed is of the essence
If you need your data centre built quickly then containerisation can substantially shorten delivery times. Many companies offer them in standard ‘ready to load’ configurations, mainly for disaster recovery, but you are also able to have containers bespoke manufactured to meet your own specific mechanical and electrical energy efficient requirements.
In some locations it is simply impossible to house a new a data centre. This could be due to footprint, budget or even local planning regulations. Often in these situations, a container can be a solution accepted by all and that implemented with a minimum of fuss or raised eyebrows from the CFO!
Construction must be offsite
There could be many reasons why you can’t build a data centre on site, for example, if it is a high security area, or the data centre is only needed in a disaster recovery situation such as a flood, so you want to keep it offsite. An energy efficient containerised solution can be fully designed, fitted out and integrated systems tested at an alternative location. It could even be fully operational providing a mirror image of the IT hardware actively in use within the primary site.
There are a couple of misconceptions about containerised data centres, the first being that they really are just a temporary solution and are not really fit for purpose! To a degree this is understandable, after all they do look like an upcycled shipping container, but the technology in them is the same as that which would go into a ‘normal’ data centre build. If you pick the right partner, then your container will be custom designed and built from the frame up, and will carry the enviable Lloyds Register structural warranties to give you peace of mind.
The other reasonable question that any data centre manager will consider, is about the ability of a containerised data centre to maintain effective cooling and achieve strong Power Usage Efficiency ratings – the misconception is that they will fall short. Our own experience has shown that they can deliver the same high standards for IT equipment as modular or traditional data centre builds irrespective of the cooling demand.
As outlined above, this is because they use the same equipment, including monitoring systems – they are an ideal solution for high density applications where heat can be an issue, precisely because of the way containers are configured. Also, where there are particularly stringent security requirements it is not uncommon to have a second container for the accommodation of switchgear and UPS batteries.
Containerised data centres are not a replacement for a modular room or bespoke data centre build, they are simply another option to help solve the puzzle. As we have seen above in certain situations their advantages may make them perfectly suited to the challenges that you are trying to overcome. The important thing is to consider each option on its merits and select the solution that meets both your strategic IT goals, as well as the future plans of your organisation.
Mid Cheshire NHS Trust’s ageing IT estate was causing significant problems. Amy Freeman, the Trust’s Associate Director of IT, identified a number of challenges that needed to be addressed when she joined the organisation in 2016.