Stick Build vs. Modular: How to Make the Right Choice for Your Data Center

    

Stick Build vs. Modular data centers

Demand for new data center construction is on the rise, as corporations struggle to harness the growing flood of data needed for business analytics. While cloud computing services continue to prove valuable for data storage and remote processing, some computing tasks have to be handled closer to home. This is done to accommodate real-time data analytics, reduce latency delays, and address security concerns. 

As a result, many enterprises have been forced to take a critical look at how efficiently their data center is operating. More often than not, a partial or complete redesign is required to meet this growing demand. The challenge is whether to go with stick build construction or prefabricated modules for new data centers. As organizations consider their computing needs, modular data centers continue to look more attractive than stick-built construction methods, for a variety of reasons.

When you commission a data center to be built, your biggest concerns are cost and time-to-completion. Data centers are an expensive and valuable asset for any organization, so the faster they can be up and running, the sooner the time to revenue. That’s why more organizations are opting for modular rather than stick-built construction—because modular data centers can be built much faster, for less cost. 

Time is Money in Stick Build Construction

The cost for any type of stick build construction project is dictated by labor costs, time and materials. Contractors project costs based on what they believe to be their best estimates for required resources. In the case of data center construction, they will estimate time to completion (typically 18 to 24 months) based on labor costs, materials needed and their experience as to what is required for successful project completion. Unfortunately, these types of building estimates are seldom accurate, based on the sheer number of different variables.

Unforeseen delays can be caused by weather, equipment failure or missing materials. No matter how hard you try, there are things that you cannot control, which will affect your ability to complete the job on time. You can attempt to build in extra time for setbacks into your budget, but the more you try to predict the unpredictable, the less accurate your cost estimate will be.

Labor shortages present their own challenges. There is an ongoing shortage of skilled labor in the construction business. According to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), about 80 percent of construction firms are having trouble filling their hourly and craft jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says there were 300,000 unfilled construction jobs in June of 2019, and that number is expected to reach 747,000 by 2026. And when you consider the unique skills required for data center construction, the labor shortage problem is even more acute. 

Modular Data Centers Offer Controlled Costs

Modular data centers offer a more cost-effective and cost-controllable alternative to stick build construction.

First, modular data centers are less expensive to build—about 20 to 30 percent less expensive. Modular data centers are right-sized and don’t have to be overbuilt to accommodate future expansion. Since they are assembled in a factory, the components are readily available, and there are no delays due to weather or job-site problems. The mere fact that the data center parameters are specified in advance means the modular pieces can be selected and assembled quickly, without having to pull cable or rewire one system to accommodate another.

With modular data centers, labor is also not an issue. Skilled workers who specialize in constructing modular systems assemble and test the data center, mitigating the concern about finding enough workers. It also means that production schedules are more predictable.

Most importantly, modular data centers have predictable, fixed costs. Commissioning a modular data center is like buying a customized piece of hardware. All the costs are set in advance, including component parts, enclosures, assembly, delivery, etc. The price you agree on is the price you pay, since you aren’t subject to unforeseen delays and time or material overruns.

Modular Offers Other Benefits 

In addition to overall cost savings and shorter time to installation, modular data centers offer other advantages as well.

Modular data centers are compact, which means they can be installed almost anywhere. With stick build construction, you need a specific building location where you can construct the data center shell. Modular data centers eliminate the need for dedicated real estate. Instead, you can install a modular unit in a parking lot or adjacent to an office building. You can even install them at data collection points, such as the base of a telecom tower. 

Modular also means extensible. Even though the data center is designed to be self-contained, you can add on to it at any time. You aren’t limited by the initial configuration.

Since modular data centers are factory-built, they come with a specified warranty. Factory assembly has tight quality control and testing, which makes modular units less prone to failure than stick build configurations. 

Going with a modular unit also promotes on-the-job safety. With fewer wires to pull and cables to connect, including power, there is less chance of on-the-job injury.

When compared side-by-side, a modular data center has all the capabilities of a brick-and-mortar data center, with many more advantages. Even the power usage effectiveness (PUE) is lower, since the physical space is smaller, requires less power and less cooling, and all the components are matched for optimal performance. This also includes minimal energy consumption. 

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