Modular data centers offer alternative to traditional facilities.

More companies are turning to modular data centers as solutions for affordable, easily expandable compute capacity.

Modular or containerized, data centers -- the kind that are packaged together in portable, standard forms and include server racks, power and cooling units, redundant power supply hooks and even networking gear -- have garnered a lot of attention for their possibilities in helping companies build out private and public clouds while keeping capital and operational costs lower. They also, as you’d expect, are ideal solutions when companies need a relatively quick build-out of a data center.

That’s the situation for Orion, a New Zealand utility whose data center was damaged by the catastrophic February earthquake, a magnitude 6.3 quake that left 181 people dead and billions of dollars in damage.

Generally speaking, a modular data center can be fully functional yet built in a pod-like form, transported to any location and set up in weeks or even days, and can be built to meet the specific requirements and support multiple technology vendors and multiple systems in an industry standard rack environment. Should additional capacity be required in the future, more of the pod-like containers can be added.

Orion commissioned a containerized data center from Rittal just five months ago, according to a media statement released by Orion, and the custom-made container was delivered in mid-July to Orion’s site in Christchurch. The container, which weighs 15 tons and measures 33 feet by 10 feet, is designed to house control systems for the city’s electrical grid and will support network control and monitoring equipment currently housed in Orion’s quake-damaged building in Christchurch.

For Orion, a containerized data center appears to make perfect sense. The main computer room in one of Orion’s buildings partially sunk after the earthquake. And while its vital computer systems have kept functioning and have not failed during subsequent aftershocks, the utility needed a quick remedy that was also built to last. But are these high-capacity computer pods for just any company, not one that needs a viable and fast solution?

Apparently Logicalis thinks a modular data center is. The U.K.-based IT outsourcing solutions company says it chose a module data center model from i/o Anywhere because of the solution’s deployment speed and ease of expansion. According to i/o Anywhere, Logicalis’ modular data was ready in less than one month. “i/o is rewirting the book in fast IT infrastructure deployment,” Logicalis’ data center director Bob Mobach said in a prepared statement.

The modular data center will support Logicalis enterprise cloud computing solutions and is housed at i/o Phoenix, i/o Anywhere’s 538,000 square foot data center facility. i/o Anywhere builds the custom, modular data centers to customers’ requirements in its factory in Phoenix and then transports the containers to one of its data centers facilities The vendor operates another similar facility that is 125,000 square feet in Scottsdale, Ariz. In March, i/o Anwyhere announced plans to transform a former New York Times printing plant in New Jersey into what it claims is the world’s largest modular data center – an 830,000 square foot building. The i/o New Jersey will serve as the company’s East Coast hub, is located next to a large power switching station, and has in-place fiber optic connectivity. i/o Anywhere has also announced plans for a site in Singapore.

Other companies have also joined in. Last year, Capgemini opened its Merlin data center near London to showcase green design; the data center consists of 250-square-meter prefabricated modules assembled on site (the modules could be installed inside any building large enough for the crane to enter, or just added to concrete slabs; no building is necessary for their protection).

Modular data centers have advanced from the earlier versions that consisted of more inflexible containers and weak infrastructure. But now the container technologies and forms have advanced, as has the infrastructure, and there’s a growing number of pre-fab modular designs hitting the market. IDC analyst Michelle Bailey says in this ComputerWorld article that within five years modular data centers will practically be the default approach. The market is still small, however. As Bailey estimates, fewer than 100 were sold in 2010 and she predicts that about 145 will be sold this year.

I’m curious – would any of you consider a modular data center?

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