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WP42 - Deploying And Using Containerized Modular Data Center Facilities

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Technology & Strategy



Christopher Kelley, Cisco Systems
Jud Cooley, Oracle

Ron Bednar, Emerson
Buster Long, Cisco Systems
Suzen Shaw, Microsoft

The rapidly maturing containerized and/modular data center facility (CMDF) platforms offered within the industry today can enable organizations to realize significant and demonstrated technical and business value when properly applied. This value comes from the repeatable, pre-engineered, prefabricated, and quality-assured set of building blocks that together bring online the necessary amount of IT capacity.

This new containerized/modular approach to the construction and deployment of a data center can be expected to be rapidly deployed, have lower operating and capital costs, and be equipped with higher density and energy-savings targets. CMDF architecture has become an increasingly viable and robust alternative when considering a data center build, with multiple implementation approaches from various suppliers in the industry.

Standards for CMDF (Response)

Hi Alan, thanks for the question - it is a crucial one. When it comes to a CMDF solution, there are several layers of compliance standards that may be applied. Lets first break out the CMDF into three module classifications: 1. Payload module 2. Ancillary module 3. Infrastructure module Infrastructure modules are fairly easy to nail down in terms of compliance. Mechanical and electrical platforms have their own respective listings under UL, CE and other testing and compliance bodies (in the US, these are called Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs). The key here is that the components of a infrastructure module have very well understood compliance paths globally. Most module manufacturers - those who take the discrete and listed equipment, connect it all together, and sell the packaged solution - also take the total solution and have it evaluated by an NRTL. For instance, the CMDF IM may be offered as a packaged and with ETL/Intertek product certification against an appropriate Standard (such as UL, ANSI, CSA, CE, ASTM, NFPA, NOM, and others). Now, there is another layer to compliance standards to consider here. There is the NRTL requirement, as noted above, and then there are building codes. In addition to any given compliance requirement, is the need to ensure that the components - alone and in aggregate as they will be installed - meet building codes where the modules will be deployed. This means that the CMDF solution has to meet regional and local codes, which minimally include the National Building Codes (Canada), NFPA (1, 100, 5000, NEC, and others), and International Fire/Building/Mechanical Code (IBC, IFC, IMC) for the North American market. Similar codes exist throughout the world. What is most important here, however, is that the interpreting of relevant code as well as the application of even more (or less) restrictive requirements is executed solely at the most local level. This means that even if a CMDF solution were to be designed and manufactured to meet IBC (as it is applied in California as the California Building Code, for instance), this does not mean that the local inspector or code enforcement board would allow it to be installed or "occupied" without modifications or enhancements to meet their demands. Now, some jurisdictions may accept the NRTL certifications as adequate and allow the installation as either a series of equipment installs or through an exception or exemption as they see fit. This is why we highlighted in the paper the need to ensure that the party you are engaging for your own planned CMDF deployment understands this, has the flexibility to adapt to it, and is your partner in working through these challenges early in the contracted engagement. If we go back to the subject of compliance, certification of a payload module is much more problematic. UL (nor any other legal standards body) has a currently valid standard for payload modules. Over the past couple of years, UL in particular has been pushing forward with studies to develop a standard, but it is not in place (for many reasons). In the IT equipment world, the general safety standard is UL/EN 60950. However, it is very important to note that for those claiming "listing" against this UL standard, they do so with caveats - such as really only applying very narrow sections. This is because 60950 was expressly designed to establish compliance for IT equipment - servers, copiers, banking machines, switches, etc… The standard expressly excludes "support equipment", including "air conditioning, fire detection or fire extinguishing systems"… "battery backup systems and transformers" and the list continues. Payload modules have at least some of these systems in them, and they are arguably not separable. The reality is that there just is not an applicable standard to list or certify against in the industry. One can argue that by claiming 60950 compliance (for instance) really detracts from the really important questions. These questions largely center around if that module will be allowed to be installed. Now, chapter one of 60950 is geared toward compliance with NFPA 70 (NEC) and other UL standards. Some vendors in the industry have chosen to ensure that every piece of equipment that is installed within the payload module (except the payload itself, as shipped by the factory) has a relevant NTRL listing or certification associated with it. Moreover, they ensure that the whole of the module is (at a minimum) NRTL evaluated ("labeled") establishing safety compliance in accordance with a specific set of standards, which is all spelled out in the NRTL report that is issued with the unit. This report would be submitted to the AHJ for their evaluation and acceptance. One challenge some end users have encountered, is that when they tried to assert that a payload module was "IT equipment" (after all, the manufacturer says that it is "UL 60950 Listed"), the claim was rejected and the equipment was not able to be installed. This is not a great position to be in, especially when considering that one of the goals is to reduce time to market and to obtain much more rapid effective use. The other likely compulsory compliance standard (especially if installed outdoors or if there is risk of water or elements intrusion) relates to IP and/or NEMA ratings (NEMA 3R / UL 50, etc…). The manufacture of the modules should submit a NEMA compliance report that specifies the level of environmental elements penetration protection offered by the solution. Preferably, the NRTL report would cover the NEMA and electrical safety elements. Elective standards can also be added - especially around fire protection levels/ratings, as well as EMP and noise factors. Hope this helps!

Posted at 06:05 PM on December 07, 2011 by kavi\christopher.kelley

Standards for CMDF

Are there standards in place right now for compliance of any currently available CMDF solutions such as Emerson's "SmartMod", HPs "POD", Rackable's "Ice Cube", etc?

Posted at 08:05 AM on December 06, 2011 by Alan McFarland (

about the appropriate scenarios of containerized and/modular

comparing other solutions , i think containerized and/modular data center is competitive in wild field , business show and other scenarios like these ,and i do not think there are a lot of these scenarios .

Posted at 05:42 PM on November 29, 2011 by keep

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