Prefab Construction for the Brave New (Tech) World

Rob Stein has his eye on a very specialized area of design – prefab centers for data production and storage - that more design practitioners should know about. 

"Prefabricated" industrialized construction has been a concept that has been embraced by theoreticians and practitioners alike since the nineteenth century growth of industrialization.  It's most common use has been for housing, but schools and hospitals also employ factory built structures.  Integrated Design Group, the firm of which I am one of the founding principals, designs critical facilities, particularly data centers.  

In the past decade, there have been many types of "pre-fabricated" (although the word is rarely used these days) solutions for data center structures, but many of them use container-like (ISO) modules, despite their limitations in size.  I have been working for the past three years with a financial service client to design a fully off site constructed data center that, in the proof of concept, offers 2500 square feet of contiguous data center space, (with expansion capability in units of the same size), along with the electrical, mechanical, and fire protection infrastructure that the facility requires.

The first of these data centers has been erected in North Carolina and has been operational for nearly a year.  A second, larger facility is now being fabricated.  Both of these are what is called "Tier IV" data centers, which means that their systems are extremely robust and redundant -- for example, if one electrical system fails, there is another. These data centers are designed with no "SPOF"s (Single Points of Failure), and with highly refined exterior skins.

Another prototype, based on less rigorous criteria, is being devised for use by other organizations throughout the United States and potentially abroad.  The basic design unit, consists of twelve modules, each 14 feet wide, 12 feet high, and 50 feet long, pushing the limits of size that can be transported over the federal highway system.  These are designed to be placed side by side and to be stacked.  

In the first POC shown below, the data center is on the lower level, the electrical infrastructure is on the second level and the roof contains the cooling units.  It is five units wide including a circulation unit, and three units high.  In addition, panels on the long side at either end can be removed so that additional units can be added to increase square footage and capacity to the data center. 

The cooling is energy efficient, using outside air when possible dependent on outdoor conditions, and the structure is designed to withstand hurricane winds.  It provides half a megawatt of redundant power, along with redundant cooling systems.  

Most importantly, the data center space is open, column free and vendor agnostic, meaning that inside, it is in all ways akin to a stick built traditional data center; however, it can be fabricated and erected much more quickly.  Furthermore, it is the epitome of a scalable and modular design, one that allows an owner to add space and capacity on an as needed basis.  Thus, this design brings early industrial goals to fruition to serve the needs of 21st Century technology.

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