Netcomms Europe Feature: Make Mine Modular

The worldwide market for modular data centres is set to treble in size by 2020, according to new Leo Craig Gen Mgr Riello UPSresearch. 

The report from Markets and Markets predicts growth from $8.37 billion in 2015 to $35.11 billion in 2020. So why is modular fast becoming the favoured solution to the traditional data centre and what does the future hold for this trend? Leo Craig, general manager of Riello UPS, discusses.

The ‘Cloud’ Revolution

Some say the 1970s and 1980s were the era of electronics development and the 1990s the age of software development. So what do we call the 2000s and beyond? Many believe this is the era of cloud data as we live in a world with vast amounts of information being stored, managed and processed in ‘the cloud’. Consumers are becoming more information hungry than ever – devouring social media applications, shopping, banking and working online. But as the sheer amount of data increases, so does the strain on the data centre. Today’s data centre therefore must provide a robust infrastructure to handle this information while remaining flexible, resilient and reliable enough to cope with the demand.

Driving Factors in the Future Data Centre

The UK will be the biggest market in Europe for data centres by 2020, according to a report by the Tariff Consultancy Ltd.[i] It also predicts that data centre space and power in Europe will increase by almost 20 per cent from 2015 to 2020. The surge in the number of data centres makes it even more essential to have the right mix of cutting edge design and technology to ensure constant availability. Ultimately, data centre owners are looking for the best solutions to help them achieve their three main driving factors – flexibility, efficiency and availability. And to find this, innovation is key as Google showed recently by building a $600 million data centre on the site of a recently closed coal fired power station in Alabama – making use of some of the power lines left by the station and buying renewable power.

So in a scenario of data centre space, the ability to deploy smaller scale but highly reliable data centres will become more important. IT managers increasingly demand powerful servers and on-demand scaling. These demands, particularly for scaling, have led to the development of new technology such as modular design data centres and related equipment such as Uninterruptible Power Supplies.

Why Modular Design?

By simple definition, a modular data centre is a portable method of deploying data centre capacity and offers an alternative to the traditional data centre because it can be placed anywhere data capacity is needed. So what is it about modular which is so popular? The Markets and Markets report goes on to say: “A modular data centre helps businesses and organisations increase their overall computing performance by optimum utilisation of storage elements, network resources, virtualisation software, and infrastructure management software within the data centre. It helps in managing and optimising the performance of data centre computing and infrastructure resources. The combination of network, storage, and computing software provides unparalleled visibility and performance.” Clearly, the ability to condense a data centre into micro size is an important factor in a world of data saturation and where businesses demand more flexibility.

The Modular UPS solution

As well as modular data centre design, the UPS itself can also be modular. This means that a UPS can be ‘rightsized’ according to the required load functionality, minimising up-front costs for capital expenditure and maximising efficiency. But it should be noted that although a modular UPS system can offer a more ‘future proof’ approach with right-sizing, no UPS should ever be 100 per cent loaded as this leaves no room for expansion and leads to increased component stress.

In a modular component UPS system, it is possible to build in a level of redundancy simply by connecting an additional UPS module. This is generally limited by design to an N+1 level of redundancy. Modular UPS systems can be expanded vertically provided there is room within the existing cabinet for additional UPS modules. Alternatively, a modular component UPS system can expand horizontally with the addition of a further UPS cabinet. This approach can save valuable space within a data centre. It also means that maintenance is improved as the modules are slightly easier to service and repair in situ. Advances in the design of standalone UPS systems have also led to the introduction of smaller-footprint systems and taller cabinet designs.

Types of Modular UPS

Most manufacturers offer both standalone and modular component UPS systems which can be used to implement the ‘modular’ approach as recommended by the 2012 Best Practice Guide for the EU Code on Data Centres. The type of UPS adopted is dependent on where in the power distribution chain the UPS installation is to be made (ie. power plant room or data centre floor) and the floor space in the data centre itself.

Standalone UPS may be floor standing or rack mounted and can generally be connected in a parallel/redundant N + X architecture to create systems up to 6 MVA. The typical individual on-line UPS ranges in size from 800kVA to as low as 1kVA and is supplied as a single cabinet. Modular component UPS systems comprise of standard UPS modules ranging from 10-50 kVA. Multiple modules can be connected in parallel within a single system cabinet. This achieves a higher kVA output and/or level of N + X redundancy.

Efficiency, Efficiency…Efficiency

Within its range, Riello UPS features the Multi Power UPS, a modular three-phase double conversion system scalable for any business requirements. With a power density of 400kW/m2, the Multi Power uses up to 28 power modules of 42kW each with complete scalability from 42kW to 1176kW.

The Multi Power UPS also maintains high efficiency in online operation mode of up to 96.5 per cent – even at low loads of 20 per cent. Efficiency has always been a core consideration for any data centre but never more so than now with the introduction of legislation to encourage businesses to be more environmentally friendly. The EU directive ‘2012/27/EU’ will drive progress towards the European Commission on Climate Action’s carbon reduction targets. Alongside this, voluntary codes of conduct exist such as the European ‘Code of Conduct for Energy Efficiency in a Data Centre’ and Data Centre Alliance’s voluntary certification scheme.

The Future of Modular

The market for modular design and UPS is certainly showing no sign of slowing as global researchers Frost and Sullivan predict its expected growth to reach £260 million by 2017. With space sure to be a paramount concern with the increasing number of data centres in the world, modular is a trend which is here to stay. Indeed, it has the potential to be a game changer in the data centre environment and impact on efficiency, resiliency and cost – all key factors for consideration by the data centre manager. The interesting challenge will be finding the right balance between developing more advanced design solutions and technology to store the ever increasing amount of data with making sure it complies with more stringent energy efficiency targets.