Getty Images


An overview of containerized data centers and their benefits

The rise in digital information is causing a shortage in data center storage space. Containerized data centers can be for permanent or temporary use.

A containerized data center, also known as a modular data center, is a data center within a container. For companies that need to increase IT capacity quickly, affordably and temporarily, containerized data centers are a great option, and customized modular data centers can more permanently scale services and support.

The "container" can vary, including a trailer, freight or shipping box, that can be set up as a modular pod in an open space, like a parking lot or garage. Within the container exists a fully functioning data center, complete with computing capabilities, power resources and a cooling system.

Containerized data centers serve particular uses that enable organizations to "plug and play" additional IT capacity as they need it. Learn more here about containerized data center uses, their benefits and the top options on the market today.

The benefits of containerized data centers

It takes time to build a data center facility or expand its footprint. Construction can last several months to over a year to finalize a permanent data center building or addition once the existing data center reaches capacity.

The design of containerized data centers is purposeful for quick transportation and deployment. Since these data centers are in shipping containers, a company can simply have a containerized data center delivered to an open space and configure the servers to get them up and running. In as short as 90 days -- a third of the time it takes to build new capacity -- a company could have a fully functioning mini data center.

Phases of data modeling.
An idea of phases and time spent in the data center modeling process.

This solution is perfect for upgrading data center services as soon as possible. It's faster and more affordable than upgrading a traditional facility, which keeps the total cost of ownership low. If companies have temporary needs, they can also rent or lease containerized data centers.

Containerized data centers work well in remote locations. For example, if a business needs to set up a satellite office, it can roll out a data center in a shipping container to provide remote IT capacity. They're often in use this way for temporary military operations or disaster relief efforts.

Since these data centers are in shipping containers, a company can simply have a containerized data center delivered to an open space and configure the servers to get them up and running.

That said, while containerized data centers improve access and reliability for remote locations, they also increase IT complexity. With a more distributed network, companies will likely need to grapple with more widespread issues. For example, even though many containerized data centers come with redundant power sources, they can crash fast if companies don't have the proper failsafe in place, leading to downtime in those areas.

How to decide between standard or customized

While the terms modular data center and containerized data center are often used interchangeably, there is an important distinction between the two types of form factors companies can choose between standard and customized.

Standard containerized data centers

A standard containerized data center or portable modular data center is a prebuilt unit. Companies choose this type of data center when they need additional IT capacity as soon as possible. The vendor can ship the container to a specified destination and begin setup upon arrival.

Containerized data centers can be bought as one-off purchases when the permanent data center hits its capacity and needs additional compute power to meet company demand. Companies might take this option as a temporary use for extra data storage as the facility builds out more permanent space. So, by the time the company needs another containerized data center for its data, the permanent data center should be up and running, which means the company no longer needs the containerized data center.

Customized modular data centers

A customized modular data center contains prefabricated components designed for expansion. Companies can work with the vendor to decide what equipment is included. Then, the data center is built on site in an identified area. When a company needs additional capacity, it can build what it needs directly onto this modular data center.

These data center plans are almost like a modular floor plan that enables administrators to build off in whatever direction the company desires. This is typically done in smaller data centers to conserve space or facilities that have variable demand.

A customized modular data center is best for an organization that wants to save space and scale capacity on an as-needed basis. It's a more affordable option than building a new data center from the ground up. You can also add sections dedicated to specific functions, like more cooling, so a new unit isn't bought.

The top containerized data center vendors on the market

The following vendors offer some of today's leading portable prefabricated and customized modular data centers. These vendors were selected due to their containerized data center options and varieties. This list is unranked and presented in alphabetical order:

  • BMarko Structures is a leading portable data center container manufacturer that uses steel in the manufacturing process to protect the delicate IT equipment inside its containers.
  • Dell boasts more than 100 patents among its modular data center offerings, with several types of proprietary technology specially designed for both large- and small-scale uses.
  • Delta offers containerized data centers designed to support edge computing applications and IoT devices.
  • HPE offers a variety of containerization options designed to accelerate container deployment and operations on a global enterprise scale.
  • Huawei provides prefabricated data centers for outdoor use, as well as smart modular data centers for indoor use.
  • PCX offers flexible modular data centers that include integrated systems of mission-critical infrastructure, along with site installation and support services.
  • Schneider Electric provides an all-in-one module that's weatherproof, as well as a flexible and pre-configured modular room.
  • Vertiv provides prefabricated but customizable data centers by leaning on its vast network of specialists, technical support personnel and field engineers.

Jacob Roundy is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in a variety of technology topics, including data centers and sustainability.

Dig Deeper on Data center design and facilities

Cloud Computing
and ESG