Trends Driving the Need for Micro Data Centers

by Karen Riccio

Two years ago, a record number of Star Wars fans trying to simultaneously buy tickets to the opener of "The Force Awakens" crashed the online booking systems of nearly all major movie theaters.Traffic surged to seven times more than its peak level in less than 24 hours, causing outages and frazzled nerves.

It's easy enough to shrug off a minor inconvenience like having to wait a few extra hours to buy a movie ticket; it's a whole different matter when it halts automated trains and buses, stops a manufacturing plant from producing, or stops the processing of key medical data at a hospital. Latency simply cannot be tolerated in certain arenas.

The sheer number of mobile devices now connected to the Internet, machine to machine communication (M2M), the Industrial Internet of Things, resource-dependent applications - even data-heavy streaming video and wearables -- all contribute to network congestion. Gartner expects digital traffic to expand by 23 percent annually with 8.6 zettabytes of IP traffic by 2018, so it's bound to get worse before it gets better.

It's just not cost effective for data centers to install bigger switches and ports to increase bandwidth and limit latency. So, businesses are looking for new ways to grow their on-premise digital infrastructure to close the gap between where data is generated and where it is processed.

Today, many organizations that need to share and analyze growing amounts of data such as The Home Depot, CVS and Bank of America are turning to localized, micro data centers. Referred to as a "plug and play" data center, it is a good solution for a broad base of applications that require low latency, high bandwidth or both.

Schneider Electric defines a micro data center as "a self-contained, secure computing environment that includes all the storage, processing and networking required to run the customer's applications." They are assembled and tested in a factory environment and shipped in single enclosures that include all necessary power, cooling, security and associated management tools (DCIM).

Two representatives from Schneider, will join three other experts to discuss another subject--microgrids--during a panel session, "The Energizer Bunny for Data Centers: Microgrids," on Monday, April 4, from 3:45 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. at Data Center World in Los Angeles. Register here for the conference.

The bottom line, a micro data center can come in various sizes and form factors, and they can be deployed in office environments or in outdoor applications. They are designed to minimize capital outlay, reduce footprint and energy consumption and increase speed of deployment.

According to a Schneider whitepaper: Practical Options for Deploying Small Server Rooms and Micro Data Centers trends that have made micro data centers feasible include:

  • Compaction - Virtualized IT equipment in cloud architectures that used to require 10 IT racks, can now fit into one.

  • IT convergence and integration - Servers, storage, networking equipment, and software is being integrated together in factories for more of an "out of the box" experience.

  • Reduced latency - there is a strong desire, business need, or even life-critical need to reduce latency between centralized data centers (e.g. cloud) and applications.

  • Speed to deployment - to either gain a competitive advantage or secure business.

  • Cost - in many cases, micro data centers can utilize "sunk costs" in facility power (e.g. switchgear) and cooling (e.g. chillers) to be less capital intensive than building a new data center. In fact, Micro data centers can also yield 50 percent cost savings over building a dedicated data center because they leverage existing facility level power and cooling - generator, switchgear, chillers, etc.

As a result, the paper states, a 1 MW Tier 1 data center physical infrastructure will cost around $1.08M or $10.8/watt, while a 5 kW micro data center will cost around $50K or $5/watt for a 1 rack complete, secure physical infrastructure solution with cabinet, UPS, PDU, environmental monitoring and management.

Micro data centers are key for optimizing the performance and usefulness of mobile and other networked devices via the cloud. Service providers have embraced this vision most strongly from the start, but it won't be long before enterprise IT pros will likely do the same.