Growth of the quarter billion dollar containerized data center market is being somewhat constrained by the lack of standardization. IMS Research, now part of IHS Inc., just completed a study that estimated the size of the market and found agreement among the supplier base that standardization is perhaps the first step required to move containerized data centers beyond a niche offering.

There are two parts to this issue, the first being that there are very few standard products being offered, with most orders sending suppliers back to the drawing board to come up with a new, custom, containerized solution. Second, there are no third party imposed standards that would ensure quality and consistency across regions and vendors in their offerings.

 “Because many suppliers are creating custom solutions for each new customer, companies are unable to achieve  the cost advantages from economies of scale that would occur if the same product were being produced in mass. Instead, the customer ends up paying for the one-on-one attention from an engineer and data center architect that is required to design a ‘from-scratch’ product,” explained Liz Cruz, IMS Research senior analyst. Another issue with customization is the time it adds to the process. A major selling point of containerized solutions is their speed of deployment, but redesigning and reengineering each product can add months to the timeline.

Third parties, for the most part, have yet to come out with global standards that would standardize offerings across regions and suppliers. Cruz explains, “The reason many suppliers are anxious for this is because of the competition from small, local contractors that are building very low cost containerized solutions, without expertise, which are often reported to be of inferior quality. But because there is no standard by which to compare the different offerings, customers tend to base decisions largely on price without an understanding of the major variances in quality and construction of the containerized solution.” A global standard would help customers make more informed decisions, as well as ensure quality products are delivered, which would in turn encourage continued orders by customers. 

The good news is that there are some strides being made on both fronts. Some companies are trying to move towards a semi-custom solution, similar to the way cars are sold. One standard design would exist but with small modification choices available to the customer (e.g., choosing between intelligent or basic power distribution units, and between Rittal and Chatsworth Product racks). And in terms of third-party standards, the Underwriters Laboratory (UL), a North American focused organization, finalized the UL 2755 standard for the safety of power distribution, cooling and smoke/fire protection systems in containerized data centers in 2011. IO Data Centers’ IO.Anywhere product was the first to receive the certification this past September.

Cruz concludes, “Though at present, this is still a regional specific standard, it is the first of its kind meant specifically for containerized data centers and provides some hope for their continued adoption.”

IMS Research regularly analyzes all aspects of the market for data center infrastructure. More information regarding these detailed reports can be found here.