As with many things in our life, there are several ways you can tackle a project. Small data centers are no different. As part of Schneider Electric’s Data Center team, I have seen my fair share of projects and have come to realize there are essentially three ways you can tackle them. Custom, Configure to Order (CTO) and Prefabricated. Each one has their place and it’s worthwhile to understand their differences.
Custom solutions are based on the very specific needs of the application & site, a solution is specially engineered, leveraging various products and custom parts. This makes sense when there are truly unique conditions that require it. Typical situations for custom solutions are unique space constraints or room shapes, unique IT load requirements (e.g. HPC), or trying to leverage existing facility equipment in a non-traditional way. In general, custom solutions take longer to design, longer to implement and are more expensive to build and maintain. There is also a higher risk of project delay & longer on-site testing to ensure it performs as designed. Custom solutions also tend to have unique operating requirements, which increases training costs and increases the likelihood of operational error. Sounds a bit negative, but for some situations custom is the only option. I had a very smart engineer friend of mine build a very awesome, very custom hot tub at his home. Although there are plenty of hot tubs on the market, his special “need” was to fit at least 12 people in it. The solution included hand made fiberglass tub, home heating water to brazed plate heat exchanger, custom controls & valving tree with redundancy for maintenance, etc. When he was on business travel, the family needed a user manual (with phone support) to operate the thing & he was the only person who knew how to fix it.
Configure to Order (CTO) is something common in the IT and other industries. This is where a tailored solution is created based on standard parts and components that are designed to work together. Generally there is a rules- based design tool used to guide the process, ensuring compatibility of the configuration. This process does not give you unlimited solution possibilities, but will give a large variety of options to meet most needs. Back in the day when we used to buy desktop computers, most vendors used this process: Chip options, memory options, hard drive, etc. You’d end up getting a computer that was tailored to your needs and you knew it would work. Something I am proud to have been involved with since it’s beginning here at Schneider Electric is InfraStruxure. This solution architecture was developed back in 2002 to bring the benefits of the CTO process to small data centers. It has come a long way since then in options and capability, and today provides the most integrated & reliable small data center solution on the market. When it comes to data centers, the CTO process shortens the design and build phase due to configuration tools and the fact that the parts are engineered to work together. The build ends up being more assembly than a construction project. Final testing is only required on major interfaces. Operationally, the solution has a higher availability and lower TCO since there are standard operating procedures and no unique training requirements.
Prefabrication has generated a lot of interest recently in the data center industry. Subsystems and whole data centers are being manufactured and tested at the factory, before delivery to the final site. This is the ultimate in speed to market. Greatly reduced design time, greatly reduced on-site construction and operations are highly standardized. The number of available solutions & options is smaller than custom & CTO, but the trade-off in the simplicity of the project greatly outweighs this potential drawback. Recently we just announced Schneider Electric’s Micro Data Center offer. This prefabricated solution ranging from 1 to 10 racks offers “drop in place” options for those without the time or expertise to design their own.
Speaking of time & expertise…there was a period of time when I brewed my own beer. It was fun and I mostly made stuff that was drinkable. Then came kids and more time commitments at work. I now prefer prefabricated beer. There is still a lot of choices, and you can’t beat the speed to market.