Supply chain challenges are continuously evolving, but the overarching reality is that they impact modular data center (MDC) projects. MDCs are still a great option for faster deployment compared to stick-built projects, but you need to begin projects with an awareness of a realistic timeline and—if possible—take advantage of some tactics within your control to shorten deployment time.
Understanding the Modular Data Center Supply Chain
All-in-one modular data centers are fully integrated systems that involve many separate but related elements. That means there are several layers involved in the supply chain for an MDC, including:
- Components: Switchboards, cooling systems, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) and more are all components—or subsystems—integral to the finished product of an MDC. These subsystems may be manufactured by the MDC supplier (e.g., FLX-Power™ electrical systems by PCX) or outside vendors.
- Subcomponents: Primary system components often consist of individual subcomponents. For example, switchgear can include various electrical subcomponents, such as fuses, switches, circuit breakers and more. Many depend on computer chips for operation and control. These subcomponents are likely to come from various manufacturers before being integrated into the finished product.
- Raw materials: Going deeper, raw materials such as steel and copper go into manufacturing subcomponents. A manufacturer of fuses, for instance, is subject to lead times and costs involved in sourcing the metal or alloy used to create the fuse.
Considering all these layers, a data center supply chain can be complex, with many suppliers and variables playing into the final timeline to completion.
Challenges in Predicting MDC Construction Times
If you ask anyone in the industry what current timelines look like for MDC construction projects, the answer you’re likely to get is: “It depends.” That’s because many factors play into your project's timeline, and the dynamics are continuously evolving and difficult or impossible to predict.
One challenge integrators like PCX contend with is a lack of visibility into suppliers of components or subcomponents. Projects can be held up by delays at various levels of the supply chain, so planning and extreme vigilance are required to stay on schedule.
For instance, a subcomponent supplier may experience a raw material shortage, delaying when they can get their product to another company using it to manufacture cooling systems. This creates a domino effect across the supply chain that can leave the MDC vendor waiting for components to arrive so they can complete the data center build.
Some delays are unavoidable, particularly during a supply chain crisis caused by the pandemic. However, there are signs that supply chains will improve in the near future, and a vendor-agnostic MDC manufacturer like PCX will be more nimble and able to minimize delays for clients because they aren’t hemmed into one particular vendor for their components. A vendor-managed inventory arrangement is another consideration that provides a buffer against supply chain disruptions.
MDC Construction Timeline Estimates
A data center construction schedule is subject to various factors, but we can provide estimates to help you get an idea of what many in the industry are currently experiencing.
In general, these times are longer than we’ve seen and hope to see in the future. As a recent Data Center Frontier article points out, “Data center operators have watched helplessly as lead times for necessary hardware have ballooned from 12 months to 18 or even 24 months.”
Below are examples of some lead times we’ve been quoted by suppliers over the last few months:🕑 8-14 weeks for copper busway
🕑 22 weeks for lighting panel boards (used in FLX-Power™ units)
🕑 35+ weeks for large pieces of equipment, such as chillers and UPS systems (this depends heavily on factors like capacity and features)
🕑 36+ weeks for switchboards
🕑65-69 weeks (including 1.5-2 months to approve drawings) for low-voltage switchgear
However, we are seeing signs of relief on the horizon. For example, Flexport's Ocean Timeliness Indicator—which tracks the time between an item being ready to leave its original port to being picked up at its destination port—is showing significant improvement.
In October 2021, it took more than 110 days to ship goods from Asia to the US. As of October 23, 2022, goods were going from home port to importer in 82 days, essentially reducing shipping times by a full month.
Mitigating Supply Chain Challenges
The supply chain crisis may seem discouraging, but it’s clear that modular construction is still one of the best ways to avoid the major supply chain disruptions that affect traditional construction projects.
Plus, there are steps you can take to speed up an MDC project. In general, it helps to be proactive and do as much advanced planning as possible in the earliest stages of modular data center design. Some of the most helpful measures to take include:
- Starting conversations with your MDC supplier early.
- Pre-purchasing as many systems or components as possible.
- Solidifying agreements with vendors in advance.
- Taking advantage of vendor-managed inventory.
Some companies employ short-shipping to keep a project moving, so you may also consider this strategy. However, this approach presents some issues. Although it can temporarily fix your schedule, it also requires on-site work to finish, taking away from the benefit of streamlined deployment and reduced need for on-site construction labor that prefabrication should offer.
Learn What You Can Expect During an MDC Project
Overall, the MDC supply chain is complicated, and timelines are unpredictable amid the supply chain crisis. However, working with the right vendor and approaching your project proactively can go a long way toward mitigating these challenges.
Want to learn more about what you can expect when undertaking an MDC project with PCX? Check out our infographic, “What to Expect During a Modular Data Center Project.”