Skanska Develops Prefabricated Modular Data Center Design

Imagine building a data center just outside Toronto that you assemble using fully finished prefabricated modules built in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Now imagine that you only have to buy and take delivery of enough data center to get your though your immediate need then you will reorder for your second phase of build out. Oh, and you will get a data center that can deliver 1.15 PUE guaranteed.

That may seem like a pipe dream but that is exactly the solution developed by Jakob Carnemark, SVP Skanska USA, and his team for Telus a leading telecommunications company in Canada. Skanska is building Telus an innovative modular $55 million Tier III Super Internet Data Center in Rimouski, Quebec designed to achieve LEED Gold Certification.

I had a chance to tour the Telus modules in their final stage of fabrication over in Green Bay at Robinson Metal just the other day and thought I would share it with you here.

Data Center Design Innovation

Skanska is revolutionizing data center architecture and data center design using concepts many would recognize if you have ever been to an Ikea. Skanska’s Telus data center design relies on standardized data center modules roughly the size of a typical semi-trailer that are prefabricated in Green Bay, Wisconsin then shipped to the job site where they are assembled.

The modular design being used for Telus is based on a central Sever Module that is built from, I suppose assembled is more accurate, pre-fabricated hot aisle containment server rack sections. The server rack sections are completely ready to go as a finished data center.

The server rack sections are designed for planned expansion by simply pulling the end wall off and bolting on another rack section then reattaching the end wall. So as long as you site your data center with with room to expand it will be as easy as pouring more slab and ordering more sections. This capability makes the design well suited for phased construction based on incremental migration out of existing data centers or in support of organic growth in your business.

But let me be clear, this is NOT a container data center like you may have seen from other vendors for surge capacity or DR.

The mechanical and electrical systems are contained in separate prefabricated modules that run along the ends of the server rackmodules which also allow for additional sections to be added.

It wouldn’t be wrong to imagine ordering a Skanska data center from a catalog in essentially what could be a build your own data center using standardized data center “products”.

Don’t laugh. This idea is closer than you think as illustrated by Skanska having received ETL certification to the UL standard for each data center module as if it were a piece of equipment like an air handler. Skanska’s foresight in going this route means you don’t have to mess around with getting construction plans developed or approved in the conventional way since the modules ship with their certifying label.

Innovative Data Center Design Build Business Model

1. Just Enough Data Center, Delivered Just In Time

Throughout my tour I kept coming back to the notion the Skanska data center design supports a “just enough data center, just in time” approach to building out data centers. Having gone through several data center renovations and expansions and building out large floor space to grow into, a just in time data center option seems like Christmas.

The concept of just enough applies internally as well since the Skanska supports a multi-tier data center. This is ideal for hosting and colocation providers that want to be able to offer Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III rackspace to clients without having to make everything Tier III.This capability also has application for many enterprises.

2. Shared Risk

The traditional data center design build model is wrought with unfulfilled promises for construction costs, ongoing operating expense, and energy performance which roll-up into an unrealistic ROI going unrealized. In this traditional model, the data center customer carries 100% of the risk.

Skanska crushes that model by offering a several service options for shared risk. Skanska’s service options include a variation of traditional energy performance contracts, a full managed services model, and what might even be considered a sale-leaseback model.

3. Low PUE Wherever You Are

Let’s face it, data center managers all salivate at the thought of having a low PUE from ambient cooling. But most don’t want to have to move our data centers to South Dakota, North Dakota or Wyoming in order to have it.

Skanska’s partnership with Inertech LLC delivers a patented closely coupled cooling solution capable of delivering a 1.15 PUE or better in New York City, Houston or Dubai.

4. Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM)

Skanska has also developed through a partnership with OSISoft a control platform complete with intelligence for the IT systems and the data center facility including features for risk analysis. The solution which is available for local install or as a SaaS offering can also be provided as part of Skanska’s managed service offering.

5. Redefining Data Center ROI

The economics of the Skanska design are just as compelling as the technology, if not more. The design being LEED Gold with an incredibly low PUE means considerable OpEx savings. The OpEx savings also come from the lower maintenance cost on Intertech’s mechanical systems. All told, Skanska targets a 30% to 40% cost reduction based on their integrated design approach.

Because the modularity allows you to built out your data center as you need it, you can avoid having to finance the entire final data center up front. Unlike traditional site built data centers the prefabrication of standarized modules can occur throughout the year indoors and concurrent with site preparation.

The modularity and prefabrication mean Skanska’s design comes with major CapEx savings and lower carrying cost from financing only what you need for right now.

Overall, I was very impressed by the design concept, its execution, and craftsmanship by the fabricators. I will be very interested to see where this strategy goes from here since it seems like a perfect formula for an Internet data center or hosting business or for a corporate data center relocation that may take a while to complete.

NOTE: This post was revised May2, 2012 to clarify the ETL certification.
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