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With the modular data centre market set to triple by 2021, what is driving this change, and what part can the Middle East play in this growth?network

The modular data centre market is booming. According to a 2016 study by Frost and Sullivan, the worldwide market is expected to grow from $8.37 Billion in 2015 to $35.11 Billion by 2020. Research firm Markets and Markets estimates it will triple by that time, and a range of vendors are licking their lips at the prospect. As IT departments across a range of verticals opt for more scalable, environmentally-resistant IT, modular data centre producers will unquestionably be winners.

It’s not hard to see what is driving this anticipated growth. Modular data centres are one of 2016’s all-important buzzwords – scalability – personified. The ability to add modules as and when a business dictates is a huge draw for IT decision-makers, and one that will ensure the longevity of modular data centres. For CIOs who are conscious of budgets, modular data centres require lower capital expenditure, which means they are more likely to guarantee buy-in from other business decision-makers.

“The demand for the best-in class data processing and storage, convenience and security are driving demand for modular data centres,” says Jonathan Duncan, leader, Regional Application Centre, Building & IT Business, MEA, Schneider Electric. “Users of traditional data centres are looking for the scalability, functionality and low power usage effectiveness offered by a modular data centre model, and are transitioning to these systems. The modular data centre – being relatively mobile – offers benefits for users who would like to scale-up and transport based on their immediate operational and long-term business needs.”

For those looking to make their company greener, modular data centres, featuring tight integration of internal subsystems and optimum placing of equipment, as well as more power density per square foot, mean that environmental concerns can be fulfilled. While in truth, this may be a luxury benefit for many regional CIOs, for those operating in certain industries this is certainly something to consider.

IDC research indicates that modular data centre solutions make up between 10-20 per cent of the total data centre market in the Middle East, and that the region will almost certainly follow suit with the rest of the world and continue to see huge growth in the space. With temperatures often exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, it’s not hard to see why in-row cooling is necessary. “The most popular modular data centers in the region come with a power density of 5KW/rack and feature in-row or overhead cooling systems,” Duncan says. “The government sector is the region’s biggest user of modular data centres, with the solutions often deployed in remote locations or at border control stations.”

A range of verticals that the GCC heavily relies on are primed for the adoption of modular data centres. The relative constraints on obtaining the right balance of IT skills can be challenging enough at the best of times, let alone without the geographical challenges of working in remote and harsh terrain coming into play.

Chief among these industries is oil and gas, where offshore and inland fuel sources are not practical locations for centralised enterprise data centres. Against the extreme heat of the desert, modular data centres stand out as being very practical options. The ability to construct a data centre from afar can allow IT resources on-site to deal with other business-critical issues, and this can be a massive time saver.

“A high-quality prefabricated data centre is fairly immune to the environment,” Duncan says. “However, that being said, there are environments that are better suited to the deployment of prefabricated modules due to the reduction in onsite complexity that this ‘Lego’ type block approach can allow. Environmental factors will still affect the choice of equipment to be deployed within the modules, for example, typically the most heavily impacted is the cooling systems which are particularly sensitive to environment, things, like altitude, ambient temperature and humidity, which have a large effect.”

Back in the city lights, there are a whole host of other industries that are sure to be spying opportunities in the market. The oft-cited stat that 90 percent of the world’s data has been generated in the last four years is the most eye-opening, and will spur a number of industries with that hold huge amounts of customer data to consider modular data centres. Banking stands out as a prime suspect, an industry that is already heavily digitalised and could be fully so in the coming years. The Middle East’s retail sector, meanwhile, is still heavily reliant on in-store sales, with only 2 percent of this region’s retail purchases made online. This number is sure to increase, and the building block approach of modular data centres serves this need.

Of course, with any technology solution that is set to experience growth, modular data centres may not be the perfect fit for every organisation. Indeed, CIOs may be wary of downtime risks. In volatile climates, where critical infrastructure may not be up to scratch, the fear of power outages may well act as a sufficient deterrent to those who are considering the option. Many may also feel that many ‘one-size fits-all’ solutions that are available in the market may either be out of their reach from a pricing point of view, or may not suit their business.

“In the true essence of modularity, probably the biggest challenge is to understand the optimal building block ‘module size’ for a specific business, to meet today’s needs and be prepared for any future expansions that may be required,” Duncan says. “Modular data centres, while in some cases conveniently portable, are often bespoke to a particular working environment, thus limiting global versatility. Although engineering can negate this, it could detract from operational efficiency.

“Another challenge in operating within a modular data centre network is of managing modules separately as well as part of the whole solution. Thus, a good DCIM (datacenter infrastructure management) solution could be a great benefit. Before opting for a modular data centre, CIOs and IT consultants should further consider how well a module will integrate with existing resources.”

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