At a recent DCIM seminar hosted by nLyte Software, RF Code, and Server Technology, guest moderator Bruce Taylor, vice president of the Uptime Institute (part of the 451 Research Group) referenced the Institute’s 2012 Survey results (, which provide some data points on how users are addressing their physical capacity demands for data growth and power savings.

Of particular interest was the fact that modular, pre-fabricated approaches already have been deployed by 9 percent of survey respondents and are being planned by 8 percent. Another 41 percent say that they have “no plans but are considering modular, pre-fab data centers, or components.” Taylor commented that the modular data center market is growing, and that while it has not yet reached an inflection point at which 50 percent of survey respondents would be planning and considering containerized-modular data center (C-MDC) solutions, “there is significant demand potential developing”

While this is good news for the more than C-MDC manufacturers globally, it doesn’t yet reflect the market acceptance being realized by several of the winning manufacturers like:

  • I/O Data Centers appear to be ramping up rapidly to provide more design and space options to clients.
  • In March, Emerson announced the delivery of the first of 10 modular data centers under its contract with National Broadband Network (NBN, Australia).
  • In April, the Russian telecom company Vimpelcom announced plans for a large-scale modular cloud data center in the Yaroslavl region of Russia, with modular components supplied by AST Modular. The data center will consist of six modular customized rooms covering 3,000 square meters (about 33,000 square feet), with modules accommodating up to 1,200 racks of equipment. Delivery of the first module is set for early 2013.

These developments pale in comparison, however, to what is happening in China. China Unicom is in the market for 100 containers, and by the middle of this summer, China will be opening the world’s largest containerized data center facility to date, with the capacity to scale up to house over 1,100 containers, complete with a dedicated 660-megawatt (MW) power plant. Known as the “Kahn Project,” it will house the Chinese internet provider 21Vianet as its primary customer and will be populated with containers by Chinese manufacturer C-Cube (

21Vianet is China’s largest independent, carrier-neutral, data center. It currently has 52 data centers totaling 90 MW of capacity, with another six C-MDC sites averaging 20 MW each in various stages of planning and development.

The projects are being designed, built, and supplied by C-Cube, which already boasts more than 14 C-MDC data center sites throughout China, including a 20-MW project in Hangzhou currently in production.

Mr. Jiang, general manager, and Michel Lee, executive vice president, recently shared C-Cube’s story during an interview on Skype.

C-Cube has four basic C-MDC models that are available in 11 standardized offerings (see the table). These models can also be customized to meet client requests. These products are produced in two ISO 9000 factories on nine assembly lines that are capable of producing over 300 containers per year. Historically, C-Cube was primarily a data center design and construction firm that designed its first C-MDC unit in 2002 to address ever-increasing demands for rapid deployment. Various different concepts were developed until 2009 when the first unit was deployed.

It is C-Cube’s focus to be the one-stop shop as design/ builder/manufacturer, or as Lee put it, the ODM or original design manufacturer. Much of this is driven by China’s unique market where demand for rack space far outstrips capacity. Racks are pre-sold prior to manufacturing so companies like C-Cube are building based upon a backlog.

Over the course of the conversation we drifted into a discussion on what Chinese IT and facilities clients want. Jiang and Lee suggested that IT and facilities personnel in China are exactly like their brethren in other parts of the world, “They know what they want when they see it.”

To aid in this visualization without actually building a model, C-Cube meets with its clients. Within seven days, the company produces an electronic 3-D virtual container model that clients can walk through before signing off on the final production run. According to Lee, this saves countless field modifications when the client’s technical staff sees the containers for the first time.

Uptime Institute Survey Question And Results

What is your level of interest in modular, pre-fabricated data centers?

  • We have deployed modular, prefabricated data centers of components: 9%
  • We are planning to deploy modular, prefabricated data centers or components: 8%
  • No plans, but we are considering modular, pre-fab data centers or components: 41%
  • No interest: 42%

When it comes to key components C-Cube is not unlike its counterparts around the globe in that it utilizes many of the global mission critical equipment vendors that we all know. These include ABB, Schneider, Caterpillar, Cummins, Emerson, MGE, Powerware, and many more.

The interior of the container, however, includes several patented improvements covering their 42 to 48U rack designs, each rated at 11 kilowatts and providing full physical separation of hot and cold aisles (see the photos). Additional patents cover specialized raised floor brackets and cable distribution.

Further, every container contains a touchscreen interface to the DCIM system that continuously monitors environmental and power systems that collect granular data down to the server and outlet levels. Data from multiple containers are accessed and uploaded via API, which provides a direct data input to most automation systems on the market today.

With its production volume and order backlogs, C-Cube is rapidly becoming one of the C-MDC manufacturers to watch. Not satisfied just to be a domestic supplier within China, it is pursuing exports to multiple countries. In the U.S. it has already established a presence by opening a U.S.-based agent office to represent them for warranty and service needs while they begin to develop a U.S. sales channel.