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Ian Wilcoxson, Channel Manager (Data Centres) EMEA Power Solutions, Kohler
Big Data is huge. The latest report from statistics clearing house Statista suggests that the total amount of data created, captured, copied, and consumed globally reached 64.2 zettabytes in 2020, and that this will grow to more than 180 zettabytes by 2025. A zettabyte is equivalent to 10^21 bytes, or, for those who have difficulty keeping track of that many zeros, a trillion gigabytes. In lay terms, it is a truly staggering amount of data.
Almost all of this data passes through data centres, which store it, replicate it, process it and pass it on. The global pandemic has driven some of the growth in our consumption of data and the related demand for data centre services, as we spend more time living, working and being entertained at home. Emerging industry terms such as ‘data lakes’ and ‘data warehouses’ attest to the same thing: Big Data is huge, and getting bigger all the time.
The growth in data volumes is being matched by equally rapid growth in the implementation of data centres. A decade ago, the popular conception of a data centre might have been characterised as a few floors of an office building stuffed with servers and protected by better-than-average security. Now, the term ‘data centre’ conjures up images of vast buildings sprawling across valley floors or desert plains on plots of land that are already being marked out for expansion even as the first data centre is turned on.
There also isn’t time to build these data centres without optimising every step of the process, from initial planning to final commissioning and entry into service. The demand for capacity is growing, the costs of being on-site during construction are rising, and the penalties for falling behind schedule can be punitive.
The costs of delaying a data centre build, in terms of increased expenses during construction, missed revenue opportunities for the operator and its clients, and possible penalties for breaching service-level agreements, are just too great.
These two factors are driving a trend to modularise their design. Modular data centres, often in standard shipping-container sized boxes, make it simple for companies to establish data centre capacity and then to expand it quickly as demand increases. Once servers and networking equipment are being delivered and installed in this modular fashion, supporting services such as cooling and standby power generation must also be available as modules. This is so that the capacity of these services can be scaled on demand, in step with the growth of server capacity.
Making power generation available in this modular form also enables those responsible for the overall design and commissioning of data centres, those in charge of their engineering design and construction, and those in charge of installing and commissioning the mechanical and electrical systems, to plan in a modular way. Of course, some aspects of a data centre design do not scale. You have to install the fibre network connectivity and the plant that manages the grid power for your data centre whether it’s running one server or a thousand. And you can pour the concrete pads for mounting additional chillers and backup generators (gensets) for so little extra cost during main construction that it doesn’t really matter if it takes a while for them to be populated. But once this infrastructure is in place, the rest of the data centre equipment can be added and tested as needed.
These advantages are compounded if suppliers of ancillary equipment, such as gensets, can act as a one-stop-shop, taking end-to-end responsibility for building, integrating, and testing the equipment in their factories so that they can deliver, commission and maintain it without calling in third parties.
All these advantages help simplify the process of specifying, planning and implementing data centres. Ancillary equipment providers can further ease the process by supporting customers throughout. Genset maker Kohler does this, working with clients throughout three phases of the process. In the planning phase, we can help you with the conceptual design, the generation of a detailed proposal, a site survey and planning, quotations and recommendations, and budgeting. Once we have an agreed plan, the project execution phase starts with equipment selection, implementation and construction, shop drawings and site preparations, equipment delivery and installation, and finally contracting agreements that define the scope of the work.
These are all standard steps, carried out using project-management best practices by experts in data centre system design and genset solutions. The advantage of Kohler’s approach is that all the people, processes, resources and schedules involved are coordinated in-house by teams who have been working together for years and who have designed and implemented hundreds of genset solutions for data centres around the world. Kohler has also recently invested $6m at its facility in Brest, France, to increase its capacity for building high-power gensets for data centres, and to improve its ability to ship such large systems anywhere in the world.
This combination of one-stop-shop operation, available manufacturing capacity, a deep and flexible product range and extensive in-house experience enables Kohler to help companies build data centres more quickly and with greater certainty. As global data consumption grows over the next five years, it will take this kind of coordinated support to enable data centre operators to keep up with the growth of Big Data.