What are Modular Data Centers and How Can They Help?

Remove barriers to agility with a modern approach to data center builds; avoid supply chain constraints and construction risks

Stephen Donohoe
What are Modular Data Centers and How Can They Help?

Agility is vital as companies continue to accelerate innovation and future-proof their businesses. Participation in the digital economy demands access to physical infrastructure at software speed, or companies risk losing competitive advantage.

Physical data centers are often necessary, whether a business operates in a metropolitan area or a remote location in another country. Challenges await as companies begin designing and constructing new facilities near or far. Building traditional data centers from the ground up can be risky, expensive and time-consuming.

  • Delays can occur when securing the necessary local permits and licenses to start the project.
  • Unexpected environmental or ecological issues may arise.
  • Supply chain constraints could include delivery delays or limited availability of materials.
  • Hiring local general contractors with technical expertise takes significant time and effort.
  • Health and safety risks arise, as dozens or even hundreds of workers navigate around heavy equipment, trucks and each other.

Given these barriers to data center construction, it’s no surprise that colocation and cloud providers, telecommunications companies and enterprises are redirecting their resources to install modular data centers. According to new research from Vertiv and OMDIA, 93% of survey respondents said they plan to use prefabricated modular data center solutions as their default construction process.[1]

In this blog, we’ll explore why prefabricated modular data centers will play a central role in the future of IT infrastructure and how they can support sustainability initiatives.

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Advance multiple use cases with modular data center installations

Modular data centers are built from prefabricated modules that make up the building structure and systems such as the electrical, plumbing and cooling. The options range from building an entire facility, to a hybrid of select pre-built modules to a bundled solution incorporating office space and meeting rooms.

Module design, build and testing are completed in controlled environments free from severe weather conditions, worker shortages and other factors that typically cause delays with stick-build construction. Once testing is complete, the manufacturer ships modules for assembly and testing on location. This approach requires fewer resources throughout the process compared to on-site construction.

Equinix BX1 Bordeaux France

Inside of Equinix BX1 Bordeaux France

Modular data centers are a best-fit solution for use cases focused on enabling business agility, accelerating speed to market or meeting a specific business requirement. Four of the most common business needs for modular data centers include:

  • Establishing all-in-one data centers in a new global region
  • Attaching power modules to existing facilities in space-constrained urban areas
  • Locating data centers near subsea cable landing stations to grow business
  • Installing facilities at edge locations for proximity to end users

Specific use cases drive demand for installing prefabricated modular data centers, including:

  • Meeting hyperscaler expansion requirements
  • Improving network connectivity and expanding data storage capabilities with advanced 5G cell towers
  • Providing memorable digital experiences in sports stadiums, like at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles[2]
  • Introducing high-density systems into legacy environments
  • Accessing renewable energy sources in new markets to achieve carbon-neutrality targets
  • Supporting WFH staff by providing remote storage and access to organizational data
  • Integrating the Internet of Things (IoT) and automation systems for enhanced operational efficiency

Installing prefab modular data centers can add value across industries, including cloud and networking capabilities, customer experience and employee engagement. Businesses can use them to deploy and adapt faster.

Equinix BX1 Bordeaux France

Outside photo of the Equinix BX1 data center in Bordeaux France

Manage production risk with best practices

Offsite manufacturing of data center modules streamlines the build process by design, but you should still maintain production guardrails. For example, it may be tempting to customize your module design. Doing so will likely require retrofitting the manufacturing lines, adding cost and increasing the delivery timeframe. Other best practices include:

  • Start small, but design your module configurations for scalability.
  • Ensure airtight coordination of the design and build process among suppliers of various modules.
  • De-risk the project by completing as much testing as possible in the offsite production environment.
  • Remote locations require access to renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power; hiring general contractors with relevant expertise is crucial.
  • Integrate liquid cooling, now considered the optimal cooling system for modular.

Finally, work with established suppliers with the required expertise and insights for building modular data centers that meet your needs.

Offsite construction in factory environments improves product quality and reduces waste. The reduction of embodied carbon in building materials and lower resource consumption during construction means the Whole Building Lifecycle Assessment of a prefabricated building can be lower than one built from the ground up.

Effective prefabrication waste management plans increase materials recycling, strengthen inventory control and protect building materials. Disassembling modular facilities is a simple process and makes it easier to recycle or repurpose end-of-life materials, which improves their Whole Building Life Cycle carbon impact.

Lekki, Nigeria

Create a design that’s extendable worldwide

Digital infrastructure provides companies with the foundation to connect easily with cloud and network providers, ecosystem partners and customers. As discussed in this article, modular data centers make it possible to provide physical and virtual connectivity in remote locations and support many other use cases.

Equinix has installed a modular data center in Bordeaux, France, with a second facility underway in the city. In 2022, Equinix acquired MainOne, with its portfolio of 100% modular data centers located across Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. A logical next-step expansion under consideration is installing modular data centers in North Africa. Many challenges exist in this region, including the lack of a proven supply chain. We plan to design, manufacture and test modules with established manufacturers on the continent of Africa and arrange to transport the modules to our sites for assembly and final testing.

Simultaneously, we’re creating a portfolio of prefabricated modular data center designs for replication in locations worldwide. We have longtime partnerships with several global suppliers that will help accelerate expansion plans to support our customer and service provider requirements for digital infrastructure.

By taking a standardized, modular approach, we can deploy a smaller facility with retail Equinix IBX® data center capabilities in a much faster timeframe. Our carrier-neutral modular data centers will include a range of data center colocation services and digital services (including Equinix Fabric®, Equinix Metal® and Network Edge) that help customers bring together and interconnect their digital infrastructure on Platform Equinix®.

To learn how modular data center design trends align with sustainability, read our Sustainable Digital Transformation Guide.

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Watch this Equinix Hot Takes video for a closer look at the data center industry’s focus on sustainability and how Equinix is redesigning our data centers to be cleaner and more efficient.


[1]North America Data Center Trends H2 2022”, CBRE, 2023

[2]New Research on Prefabricated Modular Data Centers Shows Bright Future”, Data Center Knowledge, May 5, 2022

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Stephen Donohoe VP, Global Data Center Design
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