The speed and proliferation of digital data continues to be a key driver in the growth of micro data centers at the edge of the networks.

Data has indeed become the lifeblood of modern business and with the accompanying challenges of latency and application availability, it is no wonder that these critical infrastructure solutions are increasingly deployed closer to where users generate and consume data.

Many edge data centers play host to a number of today’s business-critical applications; including those dependent on the delivery of on-demand video services, financial information from financial markets, retail businesses operating secure EPOS systems and the enablement of driverless cars.

Living on the edge

People in a data center
– Schneider Electric

As such, edge data centers must provide comparable levels of performance, reliability, availability and security as their larger variants, which serve a wider geographical area and multiple customers, often from a centralized location.

Given that the market for edge is growing at a rapid rate, and with Cisco predicting that the volume of digital traffic could triple over the next five years, speed of deployment for new capacity is a key requirement for today’s data center operators.

Fortunately, the development of prefabricated, modular data centers based on both established industry standards and reference architectures is increasing the number of pre-configured data center options available in the market today. This pre-integrated approach ensures that every system is pre-tested prior to delivery for operational reliability and is compliant with the highest security standards.

No single size will fit all in terms of data center deployments, so today’s most innovative infrastructure vendors have created prefabricated modules in a variety of functional blocks, form factors and configurations to cater for customers in every situation.

The basic functions of a data center will comprise three main categories: power, cooling and IT. Prefabricated modules can comprise all three of these functional blocks in a single integrated stack, most commonly known as a micro data center. However, the functional blocks can also be deployed as separate power, cooling or IT modules so that they can be used to add capacity to an existing or traditional-built facility.

Power modules are often designed to provide bulk power to a data center and include switchgear, switchboards, UPS (uninterruptible power supply), battery transformers and panel boards.

Cooling is one of the most crucial elements in a data center design, being necessary for the reliable operation of the IT equipment, but is also one of the greatest drains on electrical power. An efficient data center operation must therefore take account of its exact cooling requirements which will depend on many factors including climate and reliability as well as operational costs.

Prefabricated IT modules can in many cases house the IT equipment at the core of a data center. They comprise the necessary racks, cabling, security and power distribution as well as its supporting infrastructure.

However, the form factor in which the data center modules are provided will undoubtedly vary from case to case. They may be provided in ISO containers, typically standardized steel shipping enclosures suitable for shipping by rail or truck, which can be delivered to a site and placed outdoors mounted on a concrete pad or other suitable foundation.

Other form factors include non-standardized or customizable enclosures, which offer more flexibility in terms of both the IT capacity and the layout of the equipment within the enclosure. This flexibility, however, can be offset by greater transportation costs and often the solution will require more assembly on-site.

Skid-mounted modules are permanently installed on a frame, on rails or a metal pallet, they are typically not enclosed in a weather-proof structure and the main advantage is that they can be easily transported and installed on-site.

Prefabricated modules can be deployed in various configurations, depending on the requirements of the customer. In many cases the modules can be deployed as additional capacity in an existing traditional “stick built” facility. In other cases, they can be comprised of fully prefabricated units comprising all three functional blocks.

Modular prefabricated data center infrastructure therefore provides the greatest possible flexibility to those eager to deploy new IT capacity at the Edge of a network, close to where the data processing is needed but with the necessary degree of performance, reliability, availability and security that is available from the largest centralized data centers.

Wendy Torell is Snr. Research Analyst, Data Center Science Center, IT Division, Schneider Electric