Containerised data centres: an evolution that deserves your attention


Chris Wellfair, projects director at Secure I.T. Environments, talks about how data centres are evolving with a new form factor perfect for the manufacturing and logistics sector.

In recent years, we have seen a number of manufacturers and logistics companies battle to overcome the same challenges when needing to update their IT infrastructure to meet the needs of a modern supply chain.  How to make effective use of limited space, and how to build energy efficient data centres as quickly as possible.  A traditional modular panel data centre construction does remain a really great way to overcome these challenges, but it is not always the best option.

For some, their data centre needs are simple enough that they can consider a micro data centre approach using cabinets housed in offices or rooms.  However, for those needing something a bit ‘meatier’, a relatively new form factor, the containerised data centre, might just be a great solution.

Not just for the Amazon’s of the world

If you have heard of containerised data centres You probably associate them 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 can be achieved on a much smaller scale too.

For example, for a long-time edge computing has been associated with the Internet of Things and those networks with naturally distributed networks, such as industrial networks that connect multiple sites.  Where a company would have previously pushed data back to the corporate network for processing, say from a sensor, and then a corresponding action back to a valve, with edge computing that analysis happens at the perimeter, sometimes in a perimeter data centre, or on the device itself.  This overcomes the risks of dropped connectivity, but also enables performance improvements.  

Why a container?

Containerised solutions can form small data centres where they help resolve space, deployment time, build complexity and cost challenges.
Additionally, they are very flexible, fire rated, available with high security ratings, and depending on the internal configuration can perform very well in high density applications.  They are also stackable up to nine metres and can be extended if specified as a requirement at the design stage.  In an emergency, containerised solutions can also shine as part of a disaster recovery plan if already fitted out with the infrastructure, where they can be rapidly deployed to a site as a temporary solution.

If you are facing a data centre design and build challenge and any of the following resonate with you then the containerised data centre approach is definitely worth consideration for some of the reasons below?

You need an Edge-oriented architecture – If you need to position your data centre(s) in a more distributed fashion, so that they are near specific mechanical plant equipment, or close to a fibre connection in a remote location, the containerised data centre is a secure and cost effective way to achieve this, with considerably fewer barriers to overcome, before they can be implemented.

Finding the right site – 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!

Speed matters – 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, but you can of course have the interior designed to meet your specific requirements, if your partner offers this.

Building it 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.  A containerised solution can be fully designed, fitted out and tested at a separate location.  It could even be running in a separate location mirroring the main location and can then dropped in as a ‘clone’ when needed.  Your data centre can also move with you in the future and be easily transported to a new location.

Leave your misconception at the door

It is important to realise that energy efficient containerised data centres can meet the same high standards as a modular or traditional data centre build.  Essentially, they use the same mechanical and electrical equipment, including monitoring systems – they are well suited to high density applications where heat can be an issue precisely because of the way containers are configured and fire rated.

The bottom line is that containerised data centres can be a serious contender as an approach to meeting your data centre or edge storage needs.  Don’t let the outdated thinking of others cloud your judgement, or you could be ruling out a solution that fits comfortably in your budget and gives you great opportunities for future expansion.

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