Modularity and data centre demands

Digital Infra Network spoke to Heiko Sommer, Senior Development Manager Data Center Business Global at Siemens, about meeting rising data centre demands with modularity.

The demands placed on data centres are larger now than ever before. What are some of the biggest challenges currently facing your customers? Are there any specific trends or conditions in the market that are causing these issues?

“There are many upcoming policy-driven changes in standards and regulations related to climate change that are causing issues. There is also a shortage of usable land and power feeding capacity for data centres. However, the biggest challenge facing customers is not being fast enough to meet already agreed deadlines. In terms of the market conditions, the pressure on the data centre industry is due to the increased amount of data usage and processing. Take-up in Europe’s primary data centre markets of Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Dublin (FLAP-D) have increased 22 per cent year on year, reaching 201.2 MW, with this pace of growth expected to continue for the rest of 2021. Effectively meeting agreed-upon deadlines has become difficult as a result.”

How can modular power solutions help organisations to cope with the rising demands of the industry?

“In such a buoyant market, the speed to market can make all the difference to the bottom-line performance for data centre operators. Modular construction has been viewed as the answer to this. An area within modular construction that has an established track record across the industry is modular power systems, a solution that Siemens has been developing for many years. We produce reliable products and systems that are assembled in a prefabricated fashion. Using these solutions, we can deliver fully pre-assembled and pre-tested models to a site with speed. Ultimately, it means that newer data centres are delivered faster. The process is incredibly efficient, it involves assembling and testing the key components of the critical electrical infrastructure in an external, controlled environment and then installing them on-site in a fully operational state, shortening the turnaround time of the entire project. The construction of the equipment in a controlled environment also provides additional benefits in safety and quality. All this work is completed following international standards and regulations.”

Modular power solutions are not an entirely new concept. How does your solution build on already proven technology?

“Research for modular prefabricated power supply systems began in the early Nineties when we started to get requests for mobile substations. In the aftermath of the Gulf War the destroyed infrastructure needed to be rebuild quickly. We were searching for a solution that could reduce execution time as much as possible, and as a result, the idea of modular power units was born. Almost thirty years later, this technology made its way into the data centre sector with our first modular unit produced for Digital Realty. We have continued to develop this technology further, using the feedback we have received from customers. In 2018, a colocation customer decided to increase the functionality by adding the transformer ring main unit and the main distribution board, which divides the power to the device base area, we later developed this into the kiosks. In 2021 as the hyper scalers began to show an interest in the solution, we developed the E-House design that allows for an outdoor unit.”

What components does the newest design, the 2021 E-House, consist of?

“An E-House design consists of one or several modules equipped with high-quality components, including medium-voltage air-insulated switchgear (AIS) or gas-insulated switchgear (GIS), low-voltage switchboards, power transformers, medium-voltage/high voltage (MV/HV) cable drums, protection, monitoring and control systems, power management systems (PMS), variable frequency drives (VFD) as well as AC and DC auxiliary power and building management systems. Entirely developed, manufactured, assembled and pre-tested at the factory or assembly yard before delivery, the E-House needs to be connected and put into operation on-site. The E-House and all the electrical equipment it uses, are designed, tested, and certified following the respective standards of the different markets.”

How efficient is the logistics and assembly process of these designs feature E-House modular systems for organisations?

“The system weighs roughly 44 tonnes and is about 10 to 12 metres long and three metres wide. We consider the logistics of bringing that on-site, such as whether organisations have strong enough forklifts or cranes available to build everything or whether they will maintain the load during transport and construction. Any good modularity system would consider these things. Overall, the construction lead time of the E-House is reduced by up to 50 per cent.”

Beyond the reduced construction time and regarding your solution, what benefits can modularity offer data centres?

“With our modular data centres, the process of standardisation allows us to copy and modify existing designs to suit a customer’s needs, making it much easier to ensure the correct lifting equipment and tools are available in a factory rather than on a construction site. For a project, we can reduce the space requirements by 25 per cent, offer a 100 per cent customisable design, up to 50 per cent faster delivery and up to 20 per cent cost-saving potential. Modular data centres with prefabricated designs can also help improve sustainability through their high quality and reliability. They have a lower carbon footprint as they leave little-to-no waste behind. All the internal components will be in our hands, we make sure they are pre-tested, pre-assembled and delivered to the site. As a result, we will be aware of exactly how much material is necessary for construction. In times of a global pandemic our prefabricated approach offers another benefit: Modular data centres result in more work completed offsite, reducing the number of people who must work together and ultimately lowering the potential risks of infection.”

With more companies now offering modular data centres, where do you see Siemens’ role in the future of modularity?

“Although many companies hope to capitalise on the benefits of a modular data centre design, we offer several advantages that other companies cannot. Siemens has a large global presence with regional companies and factories, this is particularly beneficial as it means that if there are any delays in designs, we can quickly shift from one factory to another. We can efficiently check with our global factory network to see if another factory has the necessary parts in production, improving the delivery and logistics time. We also offer a unique centre of competence (CoC) for data centres to use globally, the CoC offer customers information to help them with their design, meaning that they do not have to start from scratch. This helps us to approach things from the customers perspective, offering a more effective method of construction.”

For more information on data center solutions from Siemens visit siemens.com/datacenters

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