The 10 Commandments of Off-Site Modular Data Center Construction

The 10 Commandments of Off-Site Modular Data Center Construction

Is your bible on data center construction up to date? Unlike ancient texts, the guiding principles for new data center construction aren’t timeless. In fact, they are evolving rapidly as data center owners discover new alternatives to gain the capacity their users and customers need, and as they must navigate through the choices and their implications.

Data center owners will find greater clarity by adhering to 10 simple commandments when making decisions on data center construction investments, especially in evaluating the increasingly popular modular options. These 10 commandments provide the most relevant questions to ask modular suppliers to better understand the deliverable being offered and explain how to avoid common, costly mistakes during the evaluation process.

First Commandment: Thou Shalt Understand Basic Constructability

Often clients who see the value in off-site modular construction request proposals for data centers designed without the benefit of a constructability analysis by modular experts. This common oversight costs time and money and has the risk of lost credibility when issues arise that should have been addressed in pre-construction meetings and planning. Spend the time to engage modular suppliers to understand their capabilities, and find out whether their product(s) meet your business needs, design parameters and/or site requirements.

Second Commandment: Thou Shalt Ask About the Modular Data Center Builder’s Process

Since off-site modular construction is essentially a factory manufacturing process, clients will be well served to explore each supplier’s process in depth. For example, does the supplier have a standard product design that may (or may not) fit your objectives, or can your data center design concept be replicated within the supplier’s product capabilities? Does the supplier have experience integrating the mechanical and electrical systems you are considering? Will your data center be fabricated as a completed product at the factory, or a multitude of subassemblies that require extensive field labor? The devil is in the details, and you don’t want to get burned later because you didn’t fully evaluate the processes designed to protect your interests.

Ask for descriptions of their processes, as well as for clarity about your involvement at each step of the process. Is the company eager to host you on a factory tour and to include your input during each step of the design and fabrication process? If a supplier is reluctant, you may learn that it is functioning as a middleman, farming out production to multiple subcontractors. Later, there will be many “throats to choke,” while you thought there would be only one.

Third Commandment: Thou Shalt Have a Tiered Data Center Strategy

When there was only one way to build a data center, clients had no choice but to apply the same solution (field construction) to every need. But now, with several viable options for data center construction (traditional field construction, standardized containers and custom modular offerings, to name a few), many savvy data center owners now operate with a tiered construction strategy that takes into consideration unique criteria like location, timeline to delivery, long-term flexibility, design and equipment. For example, in a heavily populated educational setting or for an addition to an existing, corporate campus, new construction of data center capacity built offsite in a factory makes good sense, while other locations may be better suited to traditional on-site construction.

Fourth Commandment: Thou Shalt Design With a Long-Term View

When every data center project is a unique creation of a general contractor, the data center owner—and its facilities and maintenance crews—must contend with inconsistency among numerous data center sites, which can translate into more costly future maintenance, repair and upgrade issues. Early design considerations need to take into account the long-term impact of the construction process, as well as mechanical and electrical system decisions to avoid creating a nightmare of data center management.

Fifth Commandment: Thou Shalt Remember You’re Choosing People

When price alone dictates the modular choice, it won’t be the procurement department that must suffer—or explain—the issues during construction. You are choosing people to do the job, so be sure to provide points on your scorecard for the attributes that are going to protect your company and your sanity.

Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Believe in Dynamic Flexibility

Prefabricated modular data centers are the epitome of flexible solutions that can be rapidly deployed to meet unique or rapidly changing business dynamics. These solutions can be designed to your specifications, using your preferred electrical, mechanical and IT architectures. Given the speed at which technology changes, more than likely you already know that the need will arise to modify that architecture. Modular data centers allow for that eventuality.

Seventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Be Left Behind While Your Competitors Adopt New, Improved Practices

Just because your company has never built a data center that wasn’t constructed in the field doesn’t mean the off-site modular option isn’t viable. It just means you weren’t the first to prove it was.

Eighth Commandment: Thou Shalt Consider Construction Risk Mitigation

When a construction delay occurs on your new build, remember it will be your corporate brand that takes the reputational hit and the costly liability of not delivering on time to your customer(s). When you build modular at an off-site factory, you significantly reduce that element of risk—as long as you properly evaluate the modular builder’s processes and history.

Ninth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Confuse Different With Wrong

You will gain a better working relationship and more thorough education from modular suppliers when engaging in a positive, respectful dialogue when making inquiries. Modular builders have technical expertise and proven experience that can amplify your knowledge and experience. As you seek to familiarize yourself with the modular alternatives, recognize that the available modular designs are not just a different choice, they might be the better choice!

Tenth Commandment: Thou Shalt Recognize the Added Efficiencies of Building Modular

Every data center client is under pressure to add capacity and control costs. With an off-site modular solution, you can continue to evaluate and negotiate real-estate options without having to delay data center design and cost proposals. Site preparation and factory construction of the data center can be parallel undertakings. And once construction begins in the modular factory, site weather conditions and on-site construction dependencies are no longer issues in the construction timetable. As a result, customer delivery promises can be made reliably.

By updating your new data center construction bible to include these simple 10 commandments, you may soon find yourself being heralded as the savior of your company’s future data center capacity.

Leading article photo courtesy of Robert Scoble

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