MODULARITY BY APC
FOCUS on MODULARITY
Divide and standardize
Modularity in the data center’s physical infrastructure must be portable and swappable at every conceivable level, writes APC Data Center Science Center senior research analyst Suzanne Niles
The cornerstone of standardization in physical infrastructure is modularity. Modularity is achieved by dividing up a complete product or process into smaller chunks – modules – of similar size or functionality that can be assembled as needed to create variations of the original product and or process. Blade servers and RAID arrays are examples of modularity in IT equipment – multiple units combined to create varying amounts of server or storage capacity.
Modules needn’t be identical: Lego bricks are modular, but they are in some ways the same and in some ways different – colour, size and shape are different, but sizes and connections are standardized so that the bricks (modules) can work together as an integrated system. Different modular systems incorporate different amounts of similarity and variation – that is, varying levels of standardization – into their modules, depending on the desired goal in dividing up functionality.
A complex system with multiple functions to be integrated – such as data center physical infrastructure – requires careful engineering by the manufacturer in order to modularize in ways that optimize the balance between levels of standardization and the amount of flexibility to users. Physical infrastructure provides opportunities for effective modular design at a variety of levels, for example:
Interchangeable UPS power and battery modules. Enables scalability of power, redundancy and runtime, and can be hot-swapped for repair without
suffering system shutdown.
• Standardized modular wiring distribution. Breaks down room wiring into row-level or rack-level modules. Eliminates confusing and mistake-prone wiring tangles and simplifies and speeds up the process of unplug-rearrange- reconnect. Modular power distribution can range from rack-size units that serve an entire row to power strips that serve a single rack.
• Rack-level air distribution. Breaks down room airflow into local control at the racks for precise cooling of hot spots.
• High-density clusters. Integration of racks, power distribution and cooling into a self-contained, enclosed room to isolate and cool heat-intensive IT equipment. In this case, a module is the whole integrated cluster.
Modular components with standardized structure and connections make everything easier, faster and cheaper – from manufacture and inventory at the vendor, through to design and engineering at the planning table, to installation and operation at the customer site. Modular design is the source of one critically important component of physical business value (agility, the ability to respond to changing or unexpected business opportunities) and a major contributor to the other two (availability and total cost of ownership).
• Modular systems are scalable. Modular DCPI can be deployed at a level that meets current IT needs, with the ability to add more later. This ability to right-size can provide a significant reduction in total cost of ownership.
• Modular systems are changeable. Modular design provides great flexibility in reconfiguring DCPI to meet changing IT requirements.
• Modular systems are portable.
Self-contained components, standard interfaces and understandable structure save time and money when modular systems are installed, upgraded, reconfigured or moved.
• Modular components are swappable. Modules that fail can be easily swapped out for upgrades or repair – often without system shutdown.
The portable and swappable nature of modular components allows work to be done at the factory, both before delivery (such as pre-wiring of power distribution units) or after (such as the repair of power modules). In-factory work has, statistically, a far lower rate of defects than work done on site. For example, factory-repaired UPS power modules are 500-2,000 times less likely to cause outages, introduce new defects or inhibit return to fully operational status compared with field-repaired modules. The ability to perform factory repair is a significant reliability advantage.
For larger IT operations that occupy multiple facilities, modular architecture facilitates keeping as much as possible the same between installations. Selected elements of a master physical infrastructure design can be modified, added or eliminated to accommodate differences in size or function between facilities without affecting other parts of the design, thereby maximising the extent of infrastructure the data centers have in common.
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