Modular Sites, Fresh Air Cooling and Lithium Ion Batteries: Ideas for Decreasing CapEx During Data Center Builds

Aug 4, 2017
by Josh Anderson

TORONTO, CANADA — When thinking about strategies to reduce capex during a new data center build, you start touching resiliency or hydro resiliency, or added costs, one thing that makes sense across the board, according to numerous experts we have spoken with, is a modular site. Modular sites have been used successfully across the industry, but there remain other strategies as well.

Roozbeh Hashemiha, Managing Director for Nuday Networks says that in his experience, a modular site is staple of strategy. “Because we are in retail colocation, we don’t know what the customer needs from us in the near future. So we can’t really plan ahead, and in order to plan a UPS system, we had to go with a smaller system that was modular,” he explains.

Mark Hurley, Solutions Architect (Data Centers), Schneider Electric

However, Hashemiah also points out that other strategies were invaluable as well. “The other thing I’ll mention is regarding cooling. We used a lot of fresh air cooling technology,” he says.
“And besides that, we used metered PEU systems, in which customers can visually see what kind of a usage they have, and what’s going on in their rack.”

Next, we spoke with Mark Hurley, Solutions Architect (Data Centers) at Schneider Electric for his thoughts. “I agree – everything today is building modularly,” he begins. “Because you want to preserve capital. But an interesting dynamic is when you look at the cost to deploy a total solution, there seems to be a sweet spot.”

According to Hurley, the big colocation data center providers have found that sweet spot. “It’s building in 1 megawatt chunks,” he says. “Well, 1–1.5 megawatt chunks, because the utility transforms that switch gears – and you’ve got UPS systems all the way down to the PEUs and the CRAC units on the floor — it seems to be the optimized solution on a cost per KW basis. I use the example of, if you purchase 1 megawatt UPS, that will be a cheaper cost per KW than purchasing 10 hundred-KWs.”

“So what you have to do is understand what your growth is going to be,” Hurley continues. “If you build a megawatt data center, that’s the most efficient, but if it takes you 5 years to fill it up, that’s not efficient. So if you can deploy a hundred KW chunks, and it takes you 5 years, you’re going to pay more in capex costs to deliver that full 1BG solution, but because of the time value of money, and preservation of capital, it would make it more advantageous.”

That’s not all Hurley had to say though. He also says another groundbreaking technology has been lithium ion batteries. “Lithium Ion Batteries are a game-changer in our market,” he says. “They’re significantly less weight than a comparable battery solution. You’re looking at 60-70% less weight for the same amount of capacity. You’re looking at 15% less footprint. You’re looking at 12-15 years of life expectancy vs 4-6 years. There are a ton of advantages over the next five years in battery solutions. Consistently, you see 40-50% less in total cost of operations, primarily because of the fact that you’re replacing other batteries every 5 years, vs 12 years. It’s less disruptive and there’s less risk.”

The bottom line is that the UPS market has come a long way, having squeezed out a lot of the efficiencies that can be bought. ‘All the newer generation UPSs are up there – 96%, 98% efficient,” continues Hurley. “Maybe you’ll get a bit more with the silicon technology. Reduce the footprint, but certainly as things have gotten smaller, it could enable you, in a new build situation, to build less square feet and save money, or build the same amount of square feet but have more space dedicated to white space where you can sell and generate revenue.”

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