Going modular makes sense in the data centre

Johannesburg, 21 Apr 2020
Read time 3min 20sec
Denver Pillay, Account Manager, Rittal South Africa
Denver Pillay, Account Manager, Rittal South Africa

For companies looking to invest in their data centre, it has traditionally been necessary to make decisions based on predicted future demand. Build capacity that isn’t required and your return on investment is reduced; underinvest and productivity is impacted by infrastructure that isn’t up to the demands; or you have to have to build additional capacity earlier than expected. While some elements, such as servers, are relatively easy to scale, other infrastructure decisions have traditionally had to be made upfront, including floor space, cooling and power.

Power remains a critical constraint for any data centre, and under-investing in this area can have significant implications as demand increases.

Denver Pillay, Account Manager at Rittal South Africa, explains that the two elements in the power supply that have traditionally constrained data centre capacity are the UPS and backup generator. “In a traditional data centre design, both of these had to be installed during the initial construction phase and companies tended to err of the side of caution and over-invest in capacity to ensure that they never found themselves unable to expand because of a lack of power.”

The age of the modular solution

This, among other reasons, has seen infrastructure providers look towards modular solutions that enable companies to better align their investments with their requirements.

As technology continues to move forward, the data centre UPS has also evolved.

Pillay explains that because data centre operators need to ensure there is redundancy in every system, the N+1 system, companies would have to buy double the capacity that was needed at any given point.

“The development of modular UPS systems has changed all of this,” he explains. “Instead of, for example, having to invest in 200KW of UPS capacity to service 100KW of data centre capacity, it’s possible to install only the capacity that is needed in increments of 20KW.

"This both lowers the initial investment and allows for a single module to provide the redundancy required for the data centre.”

In the event of one module failing, it’s then possible to replace the faulty module without any impact on the overall performance of the facility.

“In terms of the overall cost, the modular solutions are more expensive on a per KW basis, but the benefits provided by the lower total cost as well as the ability to invest only in the capacity needed in the immediate future, vastly outweigh this,” he says.

Creating flexibility

In the African context, flexibility within the data centre is even more important. Pillay explains that while data centres in developed economies would have power supplied from two separate substations, ensuring that, should there be a failure at one, there would be no interruption to the mains supply. “In less developed economies, this level of redundancy is often not possible, and data centre operators have to rely on their generators when the power fails. The purpose of a UPS is to ensure that all systems remain operational in that period between when the mains power fails and generators taking over. This can result in the data centre being dependent on power from the UPS for up to 20 minutes.”

This places increased stress on the system and raises the risk of them failing. Should this happen, a modular system will allow the service provider to quickly swap out the faulty unit, reducing the risk of it impacting on system uptime.”

As companies look to become as flexible as possible in uncertain economic times, this no longer applies just to business strategy, they need to adopt the same level of agility when planning infrastructure investments.

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