The Cloud

Have Data Center, Will Travel

Companies are steering away from fixed-structure data centers in large buildings to modular data centers that are easier to deploy and more cost ef...
Alissa PonchioneNovember 4, 2013
Have Data Center, Will Travel

Like any company, LexisNexis was looking for ways to expand its business while also delivering better services to its customers without any added cost. The company looked to its data centers, which are the backbone of the online services, data hosting and backup services it provides its clients. Traditional fixed-structure data centers often lack energy efficiencies and require a large amount of capital upfront, so the company opted to add a prefabricated modular data center to its portfolio.

The modular prefabricated model allowed LexisNexis to customize each module to match the respective data-center environments that its customers needed. Being able to have four data centers with four different types of cooling systems, for example, “was a huge selling point,” says Terry Williams, vice president of managed technology services for LexisNexis.

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Prefabricated data centers, such as those from IO, have construction completed offsite and are deployed within a powered shell like the one pictured.

Modular data centers come in two forms: containerized or prefabricated. Fitting all software and equipment into a trailer-sized unit, containerized data centers are customized to support a company’s specific power conditions or cooling-method needs. Prefabricated data centers are shipped to the customer site with the majority of construction completed offsite; these modules are designed to be deployed within a building or computer-like powered shell, explains Forrester Research analyst Sophia Vargas.

Containers are more for specific-use cases. For example, the military prefers container data centers, which can easily be moved from one site to another. 


Containerized data centers are used in specific situations. Equipment and software fit into a trailer-sized unit and are easily moved from one location to another.

For LexisNexis, the biggest drivers to go modular were timing and cost, Williams says. Modular centers can be up and running in 90 days compared to the year it takes to get a traditional data center off the ground. The deployment speed helped lower capital and operating costs, and got customers into their modules quicker.

The timing of capital deployment also plays a role in the decision to go modular, says Mike Berry, CFO of data-center software company IO. With a modular data center, companies can build in increments, filling in space with more software as the company grows. The investment is also piecemeal.

In addition, module data centers optimize energy spend. According to a third-party evaluation by Arizona Public Services, IO’s 575,000-square-foot modular facility in Phoenix achieved a 19-percent energy-cost savings based on its power-usage effectiveness ratings.

Brian Canney, IBM global services executive for site and facilities services, says prefabricated and containerized data centers need three things to get up and running: power coming into them from utilities, a water source and a network connection.

Once those items are in place, companies have to consider infrastructure issues. Those include choosing how much back-up power a customer wants to have available, also called resiliency. The availability of and connection to backup generators impacts pricing and are often “high-cost items,” says Aaron Peterson, senior vice president of product management at IO.

However, modular data centers have lower capital and operating costs in most cases, Canney says. In fact, capital costs are 10 percent to 20 percent less for modular prefabricated or containerized solutions than for brick-and-mortar centers. But “it varies based on environment, power density, how populated the area is, etc.,” he adds.

Modular devices won’t work for every organization. If you have a 30,000 square feet of data-center space and want to move it all to a container, “you have to ask the questions, ‘How many containers are feasible? Do we want all these individual containers supporting the operation?’” Canney says. One traditional data center may make more sense than a large number of containerized ones that each need security monitoring systems and access controls, he explains.

With the addition of the modular data center, LexisNexis is running a more efficient operation, and clients are noticing the difference in how much they pay for cooling and powering the utility. “We haven’t had one customer say they don’t like or don’t prefer the modular approach,” Williams says.

Images by  IO and Wikimedia Commons, respectively.

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