In recent years, perceptions of what a data centre is have fragmented into multiple sub definitions: hyperscale, enterprise, modular, edge and micro are just a few examples. Each of these has emerged from new requirements based not only on how we use data, but also out of how we collect it and disseminate it.

As this definition fragments, so does the development of physical infrastructure solutions. The needs of the different data centres types are become more diverse – from purpose built white space to locating compute assets in an automated factory and everything in between and beyond.

The ways in which we house, connect, power, cool and manage systems in these different environments becomes increasingly specific to each application. A ‘one size fits all’ approach across product development is no longer suitable for today’s data centre landscape. As a result, infrastructure providers have started to develop solutions for specific types of data centres, such as OCP for the hyperscale market.

One concept that has been in the wings of data centre solution portfolios for several years is preconfigured cabinets – a cabinet pre-fitted with power, connectivity, cooling and management components before it is shipped to the customer. In past years, while physical infrastructure requirements were less diverse and often less specialized this approach often seemed an expensive way of doing things. However, recent developments such as IoT and AI have boosted the need for compute functions at the ‘Edge’ and the preconfigured cabinet has come of age.

Truly preconfigured cabinets are not just cabinets fitted with power, cooling, security and connectivity; the real value is in these infrastructure elements communicating with one another. A fire suppression system could communicate with the cabinet’s PDUs, cooling and locking systems to provide a multi layered response to a fire, for example.

Benefits of preconfigured cabinets are largely related to deployment and commissioning of services, which often includes multiple skills; electrical contractors, cabling engineers, IT personal, HVAC engineers and more. As compute services are moved out to the ‘Edge’, locations become less installation friendly. It then makes sense to do as much of this work as possible at a production or pre staging facility, where personnel, tools and equipment are readily available. Time on site is minimised and deskilled thereby reducing installation costs.- and time

Preconfigured cabinets for edge computing, as well as integrating physical infrastructure services should isolate the IT assets from the outside environment and visa versa. In an office environment staff need to be protected from noise and heat created by the IT assets, in a factory environment IT assets need to be protected against air contaminated with particles and chemicals. Minimising space required in the cabinet and ensuring control and communication cables are dressed unobtrusively and neatly can be done far better away from the customer site and at a fraction of the cost.

Another challenge presented by the move to the Edge is that IT assets, often need to be located in places that are not designed to house them – organizations are faced with the prospect of having to make environments fit for purpose, this is usually expensive and often difficult to realise an ROI as many of these locations are temporary or short term.

Creating a room that has a suitable power infrastructure, climate control, security etc can become a major part of switching on a new location, whether that be office space, factory or logistics facility. Preconfigured cabinets can be delivered to site prebuilt with all of the attributes of a traditional data centre or server room meaning that building modifications are minimised and in many cases eliminated all together – in a leased location these benefits are doubled when the lease ends and the facility has to be returned to the land lord in its original state.

Because infrastructure services are integrated into the cabinet this also means that they become redeployable assets enabling a greater ROI; components such as cabling and HVAC plant, which is often disposed of at the end of a lease is easily moved, as part of the cabinet to a new location. From an accountant’s perspective this definitely ticks boxes.

From a design point of view the concept of preconfigured cabinets also makes life easier: defined configurations for switch, compute and cabling distribution cabinets enable a building block approach. Factors such as inter cabinet truck cable lengths become a known quantity from the outset, leading to greater degree precision, faster deployment and better adherence to best practices.

In conclusion; whilst preconfigured cabinets bring limited value when deployed in purpose built white space, once out at the edge the concept solves several very real challenges whilst reducing costs.

Oli Barrington, Managing Director United Kingdom & Ireland, R&M 

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