In the late 1940s, William Levitt came up with the idea of pre-fabricated homes that could be mass-produced and shipped to suburbs across the US providing cheap and efficient housing. Towns built using these pre-fabricated houses were dubbed Levittowns, and are now known for their drab monotony. In my opinion, pre-fabricated homes were a flop, but the idea of pre-fabricated “Levittown-esque” data centers is brilliant!

And I’m not alone–HP and Colt are just two of the latest providers to jump on the pre-fabricated data center bandwagon this month. Other vendors such as Digital Realty Trust, APC, and IBM have also been offering similar solutions for a while now, but the solutions appear to be a bit more custom-made than the recent announcements by HP and Colt.

The pre-fabricated data center modules are built out in around 750-800kw units and are fitted together like Legos (HP’s even looks like Legos!). Many modular data centers can be linked together (and Colt’s can also stack vertically) to build out a much larger space.

Why should you care about these pre-fabricated data center offerings? Well, they make the whole process of building your own data center much cheaper and faster. Some of the benefits I can see include:

  • Price competitiveness. HP is claiming that their Flexible Data Center will cost half as much as building a data center in the traditional ways. Much of these costs savings come from shifting the construction and labor costs to the factories as well as leveraging supply chain economics and the massive purchasing power of the vendor.
  • Speed to market. From the time the order is placed to the moment that the IT equipment is ready to be installed can be as little as 4-6 months for a pre-fabricated data center. Compare that to the 12 plus months it normally takes to build a data center.
  • Efficient design.  HP and Colt are claiming their pre-fabricated data centers can deliver PUEs of less than 1.2. Colt claims that their data center can run on outside air for 6 months out of the year even in the hottest climates.
  • Build only what you need today. This is a benefit of building out a data center in a modular fashion whether or not you use a pre-fabricated design. Preventing data center space from sitting idly will lead to significant cost savings.

NOTE: pre-fabricated data centers are not to be confused with containerized data centers, although many of the same players are involved. Pre-fabricated data centers take all of the benefits of a containerized data center (efficiency, speed to market, self-containment, etc.), but make them more viable for most enterprises in that they are more similar to traditional data centers and are less dense.