Why Edge Data Centers are a Prime Use Case for Prefabrication18 min read

by | Dec 20, 2023 | Blog

Edge deployments are a hotbed for prefabricated data center deployments. Here are a few of the most common use cases:

Starting Small

Edge is a good way for organizations to start small and gradually expand. By selecting a prefabricated or modular data center approach, they can order a modest unit that still enables them to scale it upward in the future. A small edge unit of 50 kW, for example, can be expanded to 2 MW or more a few years later if the business is there. Modular units facilitate the addition of more and more units as long as there is space on site to put them.

“Modular prefab data centers are a good fit for clients needing a small amount of additional IT capacity (less than 2 MW),” said Pat Lynch, Executive Managing Director, Global Head of CBRE Data Center Solutions.

Temporary Data Centers

Lynch added that prefab data centers also fulfill the need for temporary capacity due to the ability to deploy pre-built modules that can be moved from one location to another. If a company needs more juice or more capacity to deal with seasonal traffic spikes, bringing in a temporary unit may be worthwhile.


Speed, of course, is a big advantage of modularity.

“Businesses that need to quickly scale their IT capacity can benefit from the rapid deployment capabilities of modular prefab data centers,” said Lynch.

How fast? Aaron Badowski, Product Offering Specialist at Vertiv, said a 100-kW unit can be designed, constructed, and delivered in less than six months. Other providers claim that modular units can be brought online in a couple of months. This is a major advantage when compared to one or two years for stick-built data centers.

“Small, modular deployments are becoming increasingly common due to speed,” said Badowski. 

Global Uniformity

An emerging use case for small prehab units is uniformity. Say a company needs 20 units around the globe in areas where IT and facilities skills may be lacking (or beyond the budget). Putting one standard 100kW unit in all edge locations saves money while simplifying maintenance and operations. Most issues can be resolved remotely. Common problems can be dealt with systematically.  


The telecom industry has shifted markedly over the past few years. Cell towers now need extra capabilities to support 5G rollout plans. Telecom companies want the capacity or compute power offered by small edge units. But the fact that they may eventually have hundreds or even thousands of these units in their territory means they don’t want personnel tied up in them.

“The ease of deployment and portability of modular units make them candidates for edge locations where the skills required to build a data center are often scarce,” said Michail Kefalakis, POD Solution Architect, HPE Sustainable Data Center Modernization Practice. “All-in-one prefab solutions, where all components are included in a single module, are often the preferred choice for the edge.”


Self-driving cars, telecom networks, Wi-Fi, AI, and other workloads demand low latency everywhere. Large, centralized data centers can’t provide it. Hence, small units close to demand nodes are filling the void. Demand for low-latency, edge solutions is driving the need for smaller, standardized deployments closer to end users. If self-driving cars ever take off, small data centers will be needed on every street corner and every mile or so along a highway to provide processing power and fast decision making for automotive control.

Hybrid Cloud

Modular prefabricated DCs are being installed to serve a variety of hybrid cloud use cases, including support for fast-growing high-performance computing (HPC) and other demanding cloud workloads.

“Among the biggest areas of growth for modular data centers are HPC/AI, hybrid cloud, intelligent edge, 5G networks, military and defense, and Industry 4.0,” said Kefalakis. “Enterprises are attracted by the lean initial investments, fast implementation, energy efficiency, and scalability of prefab data centers.”

Vendor Offerings

There are now many vendors offering modular data centers. Huawei, Schneider Electric, Vertiv, Johnson Controls (previously Silent-Aire), M.C. Dean, and Rittal are among the leaders. According to Omdia, they account for around three-quarters of market revenue. Here are a few of the products on offer.

HPE Scalable Modular Data Centers (MDCs) for Enterprise include the HPE DC8. It comes with movable flooring and server row entrances. HPE also sells units with chilled water cooling and UPS. 20ft small-capacity systems, for example, include five 50U industry-standard IT racks (250U of IT space).

“HPE PODs feature both air-cooled and direct-liquid-cooled solutions with power densities up to 50+kW per rack (air) or 400kW per rack (DLC),” said Kefalakis.

Vertiv Modular Solutions comprise various prefabricated designs suitable for edge data centers, core data centers, colocation provides, and the cloud as well as cable landing stations. The company has shipped more than 1,500 modules including more than 5,000 racks. Its SmartMod unit supports up to 10 racks and 100 kW or less.

MegaMod units are ready-made designs that range from 0.5 MW to 1 MW. They include IT, power rooms, cooling, racks, monitoring, and fire protection. Another model known as PowerMod is a flexible, prefabricated power module that is useful when you need more power and power management capabilities locally.

Edge Mission Critical Systems Modular Data Center is a rugged, scalable data center optimized for mission critical, edge operations. The company’s Binary Bunker is another option, providing a reinforced enclosure for extreme solution. It meets South Florida hurricane standards, snow loading standards for the Rockies, and can withstand the temperature extremes from the South Pole to the Arabian deserts.

Real-time monitoring, data-driven optimization.

Immersive software, innovative sensors and expert thermal services to monitor,
manage, and maximize the power and cooling infrastructure for critical
data center environments.


Real-time monitoring, data-driven optimization.

Immersive software, innovative sensors and expert thermal services to monitor, manage, and maximize the power and cooling infrastructure for critical data center environments.

Drew Robb

Drew Robb

Writing and Editing Consultant and Contractor

Drew Robb has been a full-time professional writer and editor for more than twenty years. He currently works freelance for a number of IT publications, including eSecurity Planet and CIO Insight. He is also the editor-in-chief of an international engineering magazine.


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