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Options for building a data center quickly

The modular data center is a beacon of hope on the horizon of rapidly changing IT needs. Countless times, organizations land a large contract, then scramble to retrofit IT resources to accommodate the new demands.

A modular data center lets an organization quickly scale up IT capacity, but there are other reasons to choose installing a modular data center over building a data center. Startup companies can add significant IT resources

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without incurring the costs or the time associated with constructing traditional data centers. Organizations that need to deploy a data center in a remote area could find traditional building processes difficult. And finally, modular data centers are an option for organizations that need to scale up their IT resources for a particular project, but will only need those resources on a temporary basis.

Regardless of use, a modular data center is at least partly portable and designed for cost-effective, rapid deployment. Within that definition, however, modular data centers come in two types: the portable containerized data center -- nicknamed data center in a box -- and the prefabricated data center.

A typical portable modular data center includes cooling, lighting and computer equipment inside an adapted standard-size shipping container or trailer. For an operational data center, simply connect to a power source. As the name implies, the main benefit of this type of data center is high portability.

Portable modular data centers are typically configured to suit your specific needs, and are leased or purchased outright. Organizations using these data centers can customize the module's cooling unit. It is easy to think of a containerized data center as a trailer full of servers, but it can also contain other types of IT resources if needed -- perhaps an entire module filled with backup batteries. I don't know that you could truly refer to such a module as a portable data center, but the concept does illustrate the design's flexibility.

Containerized data centers are easy to add to existing IT resources. A portable data center can be dropped adjacent to an existing IT facility, then connected to the building through standard network cables or through a wireless network connection.

A prefabricated modular data center is designed as a more permanent fixture. They aren't quite as instant as the just-add-power data centers in a box, but deploying them still takes less time than building a traditional data center would. Companies often use containerized data centers to add capacity quickly or when extra resources are needed on a temporary basis.

A series of modular components are prefabricated, then assembled on-site into a full-featured data center. Though the construction process is much faster than the process of constructing a traditional data center, setting up a prefab does take longer than setting up a portable modular data center, which just needs to be plugged in.

Modular data centers on the market vary in price depending on the form factor, and come from various vendors like Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Cisco, Oracle Corp. and IBM.

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. He has published thousands of articles, and written or contributed to dozens of IT books. Prior to becoming a freelance writer, Posey served as CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He also worked as a network administrator for large insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. Reach him at brien@brienposey.com.

This was first published in February 2014

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