The evolution of the micro data centre

Angie Keeler – Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Let’s start at the beginning and define what a data center is. A data center is the physical location used to house computer systems and related components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. It includes backup power supplies, redundant data communications connections, in-room environment control (e.g., air conditioning, fire suppression) and security.  A noteworthy fact is that the largest data centers are industrial scale operations, which consume as much electricity as a small town.

Data centers became popular during the dot-com bubble.  Companies needed fast Internet connectivity and nonstop IT operations to establish a presence on the Internet.  And today, with the increase in the uptake of cloud computing, businesses are scrutinizing data centers to a higher degree in areas such as security, availability, environmental impact, portability, accessibility, resilience and adherence to standards.

It didn’t take long for data center operators to realize that the hardware acquisition costs were nothing compared to the cost of keeping these things running and cooled. Conventional wisdom is changing as customers look for ways to cut the hefty ongoing management, cooling and power bills as well as reduce costs related to the maintenance and upkeep of the data center room.   While processing and storage solutions continue to shrink in size and grow in capacity, prevailing design continues to dedicate an expansive area of corporate office space to a data center. This area is then secured with electronic locks and the entire volume is cooled with roof-mounted chillers pumping air through a raised floor, all the while hoping the space is never outgrown, or originally overestimated.

The containerized  data center is born

The industrialization of the data center has given birth to a variety of modular development methods by companies seeking to significantly reduce the costs building, managing and maintaining them.   The concept of modular data centers was thus born from the need to:

• Decrease the costs related to building data center rooms
• Decrease power-consumption costs related to refrigeration
• Increase security, access and protection of the servers
• Decrease the costs of operations and ongoing maintenance
• Increase mobility so that data centers can be moved to locations where they are needed
• Increase resilience, so that data centers can be moved out of a natural disaster area

The development of the containerized data center was ground breaking and caused a significant shift in the marketing strategies employed in the industry towards greater consumer involvement.  Although the mobility of a containerized data center is not as simple as jumping in a car and driving it away, it does allow for mobility, whereas in a traditional facility it is nearly impossible to relocate without months, if not years, of planning. A containerized data center incorporates infrastructure to support power and cooling needs, or racks of IT equipment. Modular data centers imply a pre-fabricated data center module or the ability to deploy data center infrastructure in a modular and flexible way.  The difference is that a containerized data center is based on a specific IT infrastructure solution that is pre-built and delivered as such.   A modular data center on the other hand defines the installation and deployment methodology of building a data center from a set of modular components, which deliver speed of deployment and scalability.

Say hello to the micro data center

It’s now time to go portable, scalable, customizable, self contained, self-managed and cost effective.  These are the attributes of a Micro Data Centre, or as coined by Zellabox, (MDC). The Zellabox Micro Data Center is a one stop self-contained, secure solution for your servers and networking equipment – it is a ruggedised micro data centre in a climate-controlled and protected box. Server rooms are space-intensive, inflexible, and expensive to run and capital expenditure is lost in company relocation. Small growing companies and companies based in isolated, remote sites previously could not justify the cost of installing and managing server rooms. The Micro Data Center provides their complete solution; servers and networking equipment are housed in a portable box that contains all necessary controls to ensure your corporate data (or information) remains safe and secure. When you install a Micro Data Centre anywhere within your office/warehouse/underground parking area there is no longer need to build a dedicated ‘bricks-and-mortar’ server room to store it in. By incorporating all the attributes of a server room and data center within the unit itself, it effectively eliminates any need to enclose it within a dedicated room. Standing amongst personnel, it is so quite that the dB reading is below 50, as quiet as a library. Not only is the MDC quiet but also completely self-contained meaning there is no air blowing into the room.

So why do we need a micro data center

Server rooms are energy inefficient, costly and environmentally damaging. According to the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, who conducted a survey into ‘Server Closets and Small Server Rooms’ in 2012, the average PUE (Power Usage Efficiency) of a small server room is approximately 2.1 compared to a PUE of a Zellabox Micro Data Centre that is 1.3 fully loaded (when the Micro Data Centre is housed within an office space).

Server rooms need to be cooled constantly and given the standard requirement considerations of door clearances and the fact that the door needs to be opened and closed often, the rooms are highly energy inefficient. The energy inefficiency coupled with the equipment themselves becoming more energy ‘hungry’ to run has created an increase in heat generated which in turn means more energy is required to keep them cool.   The Micro Data Center on the other hand allows for significant reductions in operational costs and power consumption. They allow for greater flexibility and portability because they can be moved around on the back of a van or truck to where it is needed or away from natural disaster zones as there is no need for cranes to load the Micro Data Center. The Micro Data Centre can be offered as a single, turnkey solution or as a set of “modular” data centers depending on customers’ needs so your infrastructure can grow as the business does. Companies can implement a hybrid Cloud solution with part of their infrastructure (or DR solution) kept on-premise in 1-5 Micro Data Centres and the rest off-premise in the Cloud.

Micro data centers are the perfect solution for companies that must house critical infrastructure either on-premise or in infrastructure-poor remote locations, without having to foot the bill to build a traditional server room and with the added benefit of re-use at a moment’s notice.  Micro data centers also include integrated remote management; monitoring and security, where customers can change/remove data center access to specific individuals, or manage the data canter’s temperature, humidity, vibration, flooding and power remotely.

KEY benefits of a modular micro data center

Real Estate: Through its size and modularity, Modular Micro Data Centers allows companies to build their server rooms in increments where there is a limitation in real-estate (space) and as and when needed instead of getting involved in high-cost, large capital outlays that are common to classical data center setups.  It allows for the doubling of server room capacity across the same footprint of space.

Speed of deployment: Micro Modular Data Center solutions have incredibly quick timeframes from order to deployment. As a standardized manufactured solution, they can be ordered, customized and delivered to the site in a matter of weeks (or less depending on complexity). It also means that site construction can continue in parallel, instead of a linear, dependent transition.

Standardization: Modular Micro Data Center solutions offer a standardized approach to build your server room. Manufactured data center modules are constructed against a set model of components at a different location instead of the remote site. Standardized infrastructure within the modules enables standard operating procedures to be applied universally. Since the module is prefabricated, the operational procedures are identical and can be packaged together with the modular solution to provide standardized documentation and operation for subsystems within the module.

Operations in remote, harsh environments:  Some Modular Micro Data center solutions (such as the one offered by Zellabox) are build from the ground up to withstand extreme, remote locations. It offers a sealed environment that is resilient against extreme heat and humidity, and is able to withstand catastrophic infrastructure failures such as rain, sand, fire and in certain cases, even the collapse of a building.

Mobility, portability and flexibility:  Modular Micro Data Centers can be moved and shipped to where the projects are happening (where they are needed).  This also means that once a project is complete, the entire data center can be moved to another location. Mobility is also an attractive feature for those looking at disaster recovery as they can be deployed to the recovery site and be up and running in no time.