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Are “In-the-box data centers” Out-of-the-box Thinking?

Are “In-the-box data centers” Out-of-the-box Thinking?

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Are “In-the-box data centers” Out-of-the-box Thinking?

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  1. Are “In-the-box data centers” Out-of-the-box Thinking? A summary of a GSA/LBNL white paper discussing the energy efficiency and deployment attributes of container data centers. Mark Bramfitt, P.E.

  2. Why Containers? • Modular data centers, often in standard shipping container form factors, are being marketed by a host of vendors • They are notably being deployed by “utility scale” data center operators • The “sell”: energy efficiency and rapid deployment, and a solution to capacity shortfalls

  3. Why GSA Interest • Many (most?, all?) federal agencies are being solicited • Many federal agencies are doing the solicitation! • GSA response was to commission Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to produce report: Modular/Container Data Centers Selection Guide: Optimizing for Energy Efficiency and Quick Deployment

  4. Modular Data Centers: Topologies HP's POD Unit Featuring a Single Row of IT Rack Space. Cooling Design Uses Overhead Water-Cooled Coils SGI Ice Cube Air Modular Data Center Featuring Air-Side Economizer Cooling Oracle Sun Modular Data Center, Featuring a Unique IT Rack Layout

  5. Energy Efficiency Attributes • All solutions offer the advantages of full airflow containment and close-coupled cooling • “First Generation” units require chilled water supply, or use on-board DX • Use of water-side economizer can dramatically improve efficiency • “Second Generation” units feature air-side economizer, supplemented as needed by direct evaporative or other cooling system

  6. Not Another Efficiency Metric! Energy Efficiency Analysis PUE* = (total power supplied to the module + power to produce externally acquired chilled fluid) / IT power

  7. For The Purposes of Comparison… • We used a highly-efficient chilled water plant, meeting California energy codes for new construction: • 0.7 kW per ton • Water-side economizer • Modeled with San Jose, CA climate conditions • (These assumptions give an edge to “first gen” units compared to “second gen”, with climate conditions favorable to both) • Note that power delivery and conditioning are excluded

  8. A Peek at the Results

  9. Efficiency Comparison in Summary Modular Data Center Thermal Analysis Results

  10. Upshot On Efficiency • Even the poorest-performing units (DX) are pretty good compared to typical enterprise DCs • With the right chiller plant (high eff. & water-side econ), “first generation” plants can deliver very good efficiency performance • “Second generation” units squeeze out every bit of efficiency advantage in the cooling category

  11. And Now a Word from LBNL… • Worried about outside air? Particulate? Humidity and corrosion? • Check out LBNL reports: • “Air-Side Economizer Cooling Is Safe for Most California Data Centers” • “Air Corrosivity in U.S. Outdoor-Air-Cooled Data Centers is Similar to That in Conventional Data Centers” • “Particle concentrations in data centers” • Visit:

  12. What of Deployment? • Most vendors claim six-to-eight week delivery schedules! • Your deployment pain-point will therefore be on-site support infrastructure: • If you don’t have power capacity, it will likely take six-to-eight months, at best, to secure • How long does it take to get back-up generators? Other distribution equipment? • Built a chiller plant lately? • This pain likely holds true for individual installations as much or more so than for utility-scale deployment

  13. “Second Gen” has Dual Advantages Brick and Mortar vs. Containers

  14. Conclusions • Container data centers have inherent efficiency attributes • Deployment may be quicker, but pain points remain • Capex comparison remains elusive • “Second generation” units have highest efficiency, and lower deployment costs due to a reduced need for support infrastructure

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