Data centers in Kenya, much like the rest of the world, have become an integral part of the digital ecosystem, often likened to the “fifth utility.” With rapid technological advancements like AI, cloud computing, and the IoT taking root in Kenya’s burgeoning tech landscape, there is a heightened demand for data storage and processing.
However, this has implications for sustainability, given the huge amount of power required to run a data centre, and the size of the carbon footprint this represents.
These and other challenges need to be addressed for data centres to remain competitive, and to meet sustainability targets, while still delivering the flexibility, scalability, and quality of service their customers expect. The solution may lie, then, in a modular approach to the design, construction, and operation of data centers.
Today, with many data centers placed outside of traditional clusters or natural economic clusters, the potential for growth and a low point of entry means it is becoming more favorable to build data centers in the secondary cities of the main economic nations, and in the capitals of smaller economic nations. However, considerations around the availability of suitable sites, power, and engineering labor in these areas can prove challenging to any expansion plan. One of the answers to this, and to all of the challenges outlined above, lies in the concept of the modular data center.
The industrialization, or modulization, of data centers, wherein prefabricated, pre-engineered, and pre-integrated units are delivered to the site, is a flexible, scalable approach to data center construction which enables data center operators to increase capacity with reduced cost, complexity, and construction time.
A “plug and play” solution, modular data centers are prefabricated by experienced providers, thereby eliminating the need for qualified engineers to travel repeatedly to the site. Designed to provide ample capacity for the required IT computing equipment, each modular unit accommodates aspects such as electrical, cooling, controls, and security requirements to provide an all-in-one system.
Its benefits are manifold. The ability to use pre-fabrication, integration, and testing off-site, for example, allows data center operators to adopt a parallel approach to construction, reducing the need for materials and labor to be split between multiple sites.
Further, today’s modular data centers can offer greater energy efficiency than their traditional, purpose-built counterparts, with the capacity for more advanced, sustainable solutions to be built in from the start.
Typically used to provide emergency power in the event of an outage, the inclusion of a grid-interactive uninterruptible power supply (UPS) can enable a data center’s backup power system to provide auxiliary power energy services back to the grid when required. By putting data centers in full control of their energy, a solution such as this can allow operators to choose how much capacity to offer and when. It also means they can choose their price, allowing them to generate revenue as well as contribute to renewable energy. In addition, the efficient use of sophisticated DCIM software can help data center operators measure, monitor, and model their power and energy performance to ensure little or nothing is wasted.
Return on investment
There are cost savings to be made, too. Building and maintaining data centers is expensive. With limited space available in urban areas, where many of an operator’s customers are located, it can be difficult to build a large data center. A modular approach, however, enables a quicker and easier way for operators to scale their operations, expanding and adapting existing sites rather than sourcing new real estate.
Under-utilized or non-traditional buildings can also be quickly repurposed to accommodate the growing demand for data storage and processing. Not only does this allow data center operators to remain competitive in an increasingly crowded market, but it also means that any investment in expansion can be used efficiently.
Looking to the future
Kenya’s Vision 2030 recognizes the imperative of a digital economy, calling for efficient, scalable, and sustainable data storage solutions. Modular data centers, offering a blend of efficiency, scalability, and sustainability, are poised to address Kenya’s unique challenges.
There will always be a place for a traditional brick-and-mortar approach but, in offering expert system engineering, quality, flexibility, scalability, safety, and sustainability, modular is a strong, viable option in the future of data center construction, and brings with it many advantages.
The author is Parag Mendiratta – Regional Manager Eastern Africa, Eaton Electric Ltd