Scaling Capacity is Easy in a Mixed Density Data Center

By 2020, the amount of information processed online – the global “digital universe” – is estimated to be ten times its 2013 size. Demand for computing capacity is rising fast, and there’s no indication that rise will abate. Organizations are told to respond by “future proofing” their data centers. Here, we dig in to what that really means.

Demand for capacity will increase. How do you respond?

1. You colocate in a traditional raised-floor environment hoping you can scale in a year

But in a year there’s no more space in the data center – so you can’t scale horizontally. The colocation provider had promised you could have more power, so you could scale vertically (by densifying your current footprint). Bad news, though, it turns out that the raised floor environment was designed to support just 100-150 watts per square foot, and it’s already maxed out.

2. You colocate in traditional raised-floor environment but provision for potential future needs

In the face of capacity risk, many organizations over-provision today in anticipation of future needs. That’s a rational response in that it does mitigate the risk, but it also creates a lot of waste – wasted energy, and wasted dollars. A colleague uses this analogy: Your friend just turned 50. To celebrate, he buys a whole new wardrobe three sizes bigger, because he figures he might put on some weight now that he’s over the hill, and wants to be prepared. Now every time you see him he’s struggling to keep his pants up.

Consider the parallel, as IO’s Patrick Flynn explains it: “If you’ve over-provisioned your data center because you’re afraid that you might someday hit a capacity limit and not be able to respond in time, then you’re underutilizing your capacity today. And that’s incredibly inefficient. After all, energy overhead is fairly fixed, so if you can produce more useful work, you can get a thinner spreading of energy overhead. Higher utilization equals greater energy efficiency.”

3. You colocate with a provider that offers low-, medium-, and high-density optionality

In a data center module, you can scale vertically – increasing density in place. Where a traditional-raised floor data center – even a very modern one – can typically accommodate power densities of 150-200 watts per square foot, a purpose-built modular data center can accommodate 650 watts per square foot. That gives you much more room to scale in place in a module than a raised-floor environment.

451 Research explains how modular (“prefabricated”) data centers suit mixed density:

“Prefabrication has inherent design and scalability advantages in supporting high rack densities cost-effectively and in an energy-efficient fashion. Investments in advanced aerodynamic optimizations, granular scalability and dynamically regulated multimode cooling systems – all integrated into the design – help PFM datacenters to gain an edge over traditional builds.”

Density flexibility was the rationale behind the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s decision to go modular. The program manager explains: “We want to get out of doing construction over and over, and just build what we need when we need it…so as the HPC technology changes, we can adapt.” (For that HPC facility, modular was the model of choice to “future proof” the data center.)

4. You match density to application requirements

Not every application needs a modular data center. Now, you could deploy all applications in a single module and adjust density rack-by-rack – and that’s a much better solution than “one size fits none.” Even better than that is to deploy applications that demand medium- or high-density in a module and deploy low-density applications in a cabinet or cage on raised floor in the same data center.

low-densityLow-Density Colocation
For applications with low power-density requirements, IO provides raised floor that is capable of supporting 3-5 kW per rack.
medium-densityMedium-Density Colocation
For applications that require 5-8kW per rack and greater privacy, IO provides access to shared modular data center infrastructure.
high-densityHigh-Density Colocation
For applications that require up to 30kW per rack, IO offers shared or private high-density modular data center infrastructure.

A mixed-density data center that enables you to scale in place and match density to application requirements is what many have been referring to as a “future proof” data center. It’s the best of both worlds: you mitigate the risk of being unable to scale without having to wastefully over-provision.


Related Resources

The Buzz: High Density Data Center or Low Density for High Performance Computing? 5 Factors to ConsiderThe Buzz: Use Cases & Trends in High Density IT Infrastructure


From a single colocation cabinet on raised floor to your own dedicated modular data center, IO can support any scale or power density requirement. Learn more.