As data centers continue to proliferate, companies of all sizes seek solutions that meet demand while remaining economically sustainable. Prefabricated modular data centers (PMDCs) are a fairly new phenomenon. Traditional, bespoke data centers have yielded industry-accepted best practices, and data center equipment form factors have firmed over the last decade. Seeking efficiencies and realizing that a “snowflake” solution isn’t necessary in all cases, PMDCs emerged. And while PMDCs are not snowflakes, they’re often able to be highly customized with standardized components, including power distribution, uninterruptible power, thermal management, IT management, and other critical infrastructure solutions.

FIGURE 1. What are prefabricated modular data centers best suited for?

To understand changing industry trends, technology research company OMDIA annually surveys thousands of global enterprises, reaching representatives from 4,905 companies in 2022. OMDIA vetted this group to narrow the focus to 228 companies that operate their own data centers. Respondents ranged from data center management to operations to engineering to design and construction. Nearly all held significant or sole sway in the final decision-making process for data center engineering and physical infrastructure.

PMDCs on the Rise

An uncertain economy and unprecedented demand require flexible solutions, like prefabricated data centers. PMDCs shrink construction timelines by reducing sequential builds. Modules are built and tested in an off-site factory, while the on-site team builds and prepares the site before installation. Work content can be phased in independent modules, allowing the data center to be operational much faster. Prefabricated modular solutions also are highly scalable, enabling easy expansion and upgrade since additional modules can be added as business demands.

These qualities have attracted many businesses to PMDCs as their plans to invest in data centers change. More than 80% of those surveyed by OMDIA plan to increase their data center investments this year.

FIGURE 2. What do you believe are the main reasons to deploy PMDC?

 Just over half of the 228 companies surveyed have deployed some form of prefabricated modular solution, and nearly all respondents report that PMDC technology will be part of their future strategy – with more than 90% of respondents planning to default to PMDCs in lieu of traditional data center construction.

Attractive Solution for Agility

Survey respondents cited scalability as the most attractive trait in prefabricated modular design. Whereas a custom-built data center can take one to two years to go online, fully operational PMDCs can be added in less than a year. This is a significant advantage when strategic response times to economic shifts can make or break a business.

PMDCs also require less commitment: A snowflake solution is immutable and requires significant investment to alter, but a prefabricated solution can be custom-ordered and added using far fewer resources and with more support during installation.

FIGURE 3. A look at the survey results regarding PMDC.

As the data shows, PMDCs answer many demands of an unpredictable market: standardization, modularity, ease of deployment, and more. And about one-quarter of respondents noted that PMDCs are part of their ESG commitments due to their sustainability and environmental friendliness.

Understanding Barriers to Adoption

OMDIA data suggests most PMDC adopters are using more than one technology, in most cases deploying two solutions. Of note, larger companies use more PMDCs but have a lower affinity for all-in-one modules.

The perception of survey respondents is that operations and maintenance as well as PMDC technology maturity are the biggest barriers to widespread adoption.

The significant 37% holding concerns about the maturity of PMDC technology are offset by more than 90% of respondents planning to make PMDCs a core part of their technological expansion this year or in the future. Given these intentions toward continued adoption, concerns over technological maturity should dwindle annually as more businesses successfully adopt PMDCs.

FIGURE 4. What PMDC technology do you deploy?

The 40% of respondents concerned with operations and maintenance are also explicable by industry risk aversion. PMDCs require no special operations or maintenance actions versus traditional data centers; in fact, they often require less. The significant percentage reported here is likely standard for all data center types.

Looking Ahead

As demand for storage continues to skyrocket, standardization and modularity make PMDCs a popular, increasingly adopted solution. The flexibility of PMDCs also allows smaller businesses to follow hyperscale data center operator innovation and scale-to-order. And even hyperscalers in the Asia-Pacific market are starting to come around to PMDCs through colocation. This is enormous growth, considering that data centers of any type were uncommon just 25 years ago.

FIGURE 5. What are the barriers to PMDC technology becoming more prevalent?

PMDCs allow businesses of all sizes to get their data online much faster than a fully bespoke solution, and on-demand scalability is essential as needs shift. PMDCs are custom-ordered, tested, and built by experts, reducing unknowns for the buyer. PMDCs are a reliable, growing solution for core enterprise locations, edge compute, and colocation facilities, providing the flexibility needed to deploy compute globally, where and when you need it.