Sustainable Benefits of Modular Data Centers

Thomas Wellinger


DC infrastructure requirements keep changing and developing. Today’s state-of-the art facility could be obsolete in years. This can be the result of economic cycles, market developments, strategy or products portfolio choices as well as mergers and takeovers. It also means changes will be required to DC power supplies, server count, storage, architecture and more – but without knowing what the exact short and long-term requirements will be. A Modular data center  can provide a solution. This is, essentially, an integrated, predesigned set of modules selected and configured with possible expansion in mind, as well as the possibility of downscaling or altering functionality as and when circumstances require. The DC is fully functional from the outset, but can be scaled as the client’s business develops or their IT needs and processes change.


What does Modular mean?

The term ‘Modular’ doesn’t refer to a specific type of hardware – it’s a design philosophy based around highly standardized components in a prefab, pre-developed solution. The DC can be up and running in weeks, with a  very shortcommissioning phase. This makes expansion easy, but can also make changing system functionality or meeting new client requirements harder. A more flexible phased design allows greater freedom to accommodate specific client requirements and future changes in equipment, TIER levels and so on.

There are several ways in which ‘Modular’ can make significant contributions to sustainability. Let’s take a closer look at some of these:

No overcapacity in initial DC power requirements: To accommodate growing demands, new DCs are often rapidly built – sometimes more or less at random – or existing DCs are hurriedly expanded. In both cases, this may result in huge overcapacity – which means more power is needed for processing, building management, networks and cooling capacity – that may never be used. This problem can be avoided by taking a modular approach.  can start off small – bringing down all additional costs. You don’t need to use more hardware than you need up front. Highly efficient components can be introduced at the outset and expanded or upgraded later. Power supplies are also entirely scaleable.

Small footprint: Modular DCs tend to be more compact at component level and overall. Also, they can start off small and remain that way, or be expanded as and when required. In general, Enterprise DCs seem to be shrinking: 10 percent of Data Center 2025 survey participants believe these will be one-tenth the size of current facilities by 2025. 58 percent think future DCs will be half the size of today’s facilities or smaller. Modular designs may be leveraged to save energy, minimize building costs and increase flexibility.

Clever cooling: Almost half of the energy consumed by DCs is used to cool servers. Recent performance-optimization breakthroughs allow Modular DCs to use outside air for cooling, instead of air conditioning systems. Also, DC cooling –  also designed in a modular way – can be more easily adapted to requirements.

Quick, flexible construction: Faster, easier, more standardized and repeatable construction also brings a number of environmental benefits, including less materials waste, transport and logistics. Modular DCs can also be moved or copied within months or even weeks. In addition, the vast design flexibility on offer means existing buildings can often be used to house modular DCs. Modules and housing can be pre-assembled and configured and transported to the site for installation, minimizing initial construction impact. Also, you can expand a building as and when needed, so there are no maintenance or energy costs for unused space. Even if a DC is located in a fixed-size building, it can be fully scalable. Efficient commissioning also means an absolute minimum of packaging is required…


Latest, most efficient Data Center technology

As a relatively new concept, Modular DCs use the newest, most power-efficient technologies available. You can also easily replace components without closing down servers or even the entire facility as soon as more energy-efficient versions become available. Low carbon emissions, long component lifetimes and use of recycled materials all add to the sustainable character of modular DCs. It also becomes easier to find the energy ‘sweet spot’ for different devices, as opposed to simply running the largest amount of power through the facility.


Copy your best ideas

Designs can be easily copied and scaled, which means any energy-saving processes specific to your own business can be reproduced and leveraged.



Too much capacity at any given point in time? The modular design approach allows you to shut down entire sections of your DC configuration and reboot them as and when needed.


Modular Data Centers: a sustainable solution

We can  conclude that a modular approach can cut down the costs normally associated with building and certifying a sustainable DC whilst delivering long-term cost savings on expansion, operation and maintenance. A modular DC design approach offers enhanced flexibility to accommodate growth or changing requirements whilst providing an opportunity to spread investment costs over a longer time. Costs remain fixed until utilization increases and depreciation can be managed in stages. However, to accommodate future growth and leverage the sustainable characteristic of the modular approach, certain facilities need to be in place from the outset. Is there a sustainable power supply nearby which is large enough to accommodate future expansion? Is there a fiber backbone nearby? Can you get planning permission for future expansions? Reuse the increased heat given off by more servers? Is the site or building big enough to accommodate more equipment or will you need to build an extension? Such considerations need to be factored in from the outset.