In most cases, a business is reluctant to invest in capital projects unless they know it will yield a return, the quicker the better. Even data centers are careful with spending extra for space just for potential growth as this can seem like long-yield capital investment that might not be the best fit for future customers. On the other hand, not having the powered space ready might mean missed deals for colocation providers or bottlenecks for businesses running their own. Data center providers are typically highly capable of accurately gaging the correct amount of capacity with the needed schedule while also reducing the cost of ownership and risk of scaling limitations. A modular approach, now adopted by many providers, gives the ability to scale fast, efficiently, with much more flexibility – and those that do it well have a distinct competitive advantage over most enterprise data centers.
A modular design approach has been approached in a number of ways to allow incremental scale quickly and easily, and this begins with the base construction. Power, space, cooling, and network infrastructure need to be outfitted in the data center to support plug-and-play style deployments for tenants. But the older ways of defining the layouts and limits to customers is beginning to yield to the needs for more flexibility and customization; in turn, this means the space is used differently than in the past, with power and cooling configured to match the needs closely. Modular data centers may begin with base cooling and power systems that offer concurrent maintainability for the basic needs of a data center client and also have the ability to support rapid scaling without major reconfigurations or lowering reliability. Higher density racks can be added in the same spaces with just-in-time updates to the modular power and cooling systems to support the same footprint. The modular approach allows the businesses to choose density or scaling lower density based on their circumstances and not be limited by a data center that can accommodate both. Knowing that deployments aren’t exactly alike, the allowable customization of the equipment and racks is important and the modular data center allows for incremental growth with diverse equipment and arrangements.
By comparison, containerized solutions certainly have their limits – not just space, power and cooling – as the costs tend to be high for the amount of compute they can support. They can make sense for short term solutions, such as supporting a construction site or other temporary arrangements, but usually can’t cost-effectively provide reliability, robust security, flexibility or scalability.