Efficient and Flexible: The Power of Modular Construction in Data Centers  

February 27, 2024
Outside of a modular data center

Driven by the need for increased efficiency, flexibility, and sustainability, the data center industry is pivoting to modular data centers. As modular construction becomes the new standard, facilities are under pressure to take full advantage of the benefits offered by this paradigm shift. Those who are late to embrace these advantages risk losing their edge to competitors in attracting customers, investors, and employees. 

Modular vs. Traditional Data Centers: Understanding the Differences

Modular data centers are pre-fabricated, scalable units that can be easily assembled, modified, and reconfigured as needed. These units consist of standardized modules including power, cooling, and IT systems, which allow quick deployment and hassle-free expansion.  

In contrast, traditional data centers are custom-built, fixed structures that require significant time, resources, and planning for construction and expansion. A recent survey of 228 data center executives found that over half had already deployed modular facilities, while 99% shared that they have plans to use modular data center designs in the coming years. 

Inside of a modular data center

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The Key Advantages: Efficiency and Scalability 

Modular data centers’ inherent efficiency is one of their primary benefits. By using standardized components, operators can optimize modular data centers for specific power, cooling, and space requirements. These adaptations lower both operational costs and the amount of waste. From the beginning, modular data centers are easier to work with: they can be built off-site in a controlled, indoor environment, which reduces delays and eliminates weather concerns. 

Modular data centers also offer unparalleled scalability. As a company’s IT needs grow, it can rapidly deploy additional modules without disrupting existing operations. This flexibility not only saves time and money, but also ensures that businesses can adapt to changing demands with minimal downtime. 

Upgrading UPS Systems and Alternative Battery Chemistries 

A critical component of any data center is the Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) system, which ensures continuous operation during power outages or fluctuations. Modular data centers provide a significant advantage when it comes to upgrading UPS systems, as they can easily accommodate alternative battery chemistries such as lithium-ion and nickel-zinc. These alternative chemistries offer higher power density, smaller footprints, lower weight,  and faster recharge times compared to traditional lead-acid batteries. 

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For instance, nickel-zinc battery chemistries’ high power density allows operators to reduce the space (and associated costs) needed for backup power supplies. Some nickel-zinc UPS battery cabinets can deliver the same power as lead-acid battery cabinets twice their size and weight, which significantly reduces the number of cabinets required and the linear size of the overall container. Nickel-zinc batteries can also operate at higher temperatures, which enables a lower-capacity cooling system with lower up-front and operating costs. Since they can’t go into thermal runaway, nickel-zinc batteries don’t need the additional safety infrastructure that lithium-ion batteries require – making them ideal for modular data centers. 

Environmental Impact and Sustainability: The Green Benefits of Modular Data Centers 

Increased demands for scope 3 emissions transparency are gaining momentum, driven by pressure from investors, regulators and the general public. Data centers that stay ahead of the competition in reporting and addressing scope 3 emissions will attract customers and investors who are seeking comprehensive disclosure and commitments to sustainability. This applies to the climate impact of both the data center companies and their customers (as happens with colocation facilities). 

Modular data centers have a significantly smaller environmental footprint compared to traditional data centers. Due to their scalable nature, modular data centers can be tailored to meet specific energy requirements, resulting in reduced energy consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions. They can be also easily upgraded to incorporate technologies with lower environmental footprints, such as the previously discussed sustaimable batteries for UPS systems. 

The manufacturing of containerized/modular data centers

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The Bottom Line: Embracing the Future of Data Center Infrastructure 

With greater efficiency, scalability, flexibility, and sustainability, modular data centers are the new norm for data center infrastructure. As the demand for data storage and processing grows, savvy enterprises will recognize and act on the benefits of adopting modular data center solutions to remain competitive, reduce costs, and minimize their environmental impact. By not only adopting modular construction, but fully embracing its advantages, businesses can ensure that they are well-equipped to adapt to the ever-changing technological landscape while contributing to a greener, more sustainable future. 

Previously published by Digitalisation World

Tod Higinbotham, ZincFive COO
Tod Higinbotham
COO, ZincFive
Tod has a strong track record of successfully growing advanced materials companies in the energy storage, semiconductor, and solar markets. He served as Executive VP/GM for ATMI and led the rapid growth of the company, which sold more than $1 billion. Tod was an executive member of the leadership team at Advanced Silicon Materials, a world leader in high-purity silicon materials, the business that was sold to REC to form their solar materials business. He was formerly the CEO of PowerGenix, the company that pioneered the novel nickel-zinc battery technology that has become the core of ZincFive’s solution portfolio.