PCX: an important prefab datacenter company that you may not have heard of
August 27 2015 – By Daniel Bizo
PCX has been silently riding the growing adoption of prefabricated modular (PFM) datacenter facilities. The company has decades of expertise in integration and packaging of electrical and mechanical equipment, which has helped it win orders to build modular facilities. PCX does not currently sell PFM datacenters under its own brand, or directly to end users, but acts as an original design manufacturer for systems integrators and OEMs.
The 451 Take
Despite its low profile, PCX plays a key role in the PFM datacenter industry. The company enables vendors of PFM datacenter products to focus on marketing and customer service by taking on the laborious task of designing, manufacturing and installing prefabricated facilities with integrated power and cooling systems. As demand for PFM datacenters grows, so should the flow of orders going the way of PCX. Soon enough the company might even become an attractive target for a controlling interest (it’s closely held) by one of its large OEM customers looking to secure more of its upstream supply chain.
Headquartered in Clayton, North Carolina, PCX was founded in 1993 to serve the commercial retail industry with prefabricated electrical distribution systems. The value proposition was simple and analogous to the key advantages of PFM datacenters: faster time to market for stores to start trading sooner. PCX installed thousands of such units for retailers (e.g., Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc.) throughout the United States, as well as Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico in the 1990s. In 1998, PCX was acquired by Integrated Electrical Services, a publicly traded electrical contractor. It was sold to a group of private investors in 2002, and has been closely held since. It employs 125-150 staff, and we estimate its 2015 revenue to be in the range of $45m-55m.
By the mid-2000s, the retail boom cycle was mostly over. Luckily for PCX, interest in prefabricated datacenter facilities took off at around that time – after Sun Microsystems started marketing its containerized infrastructure in 2006, all the major IT vendors started developing their own version. Coincidentally, the growing scale of large multi-tenant operators also called for more standardization, repeatability and cost-cutting. This led to increasingly more prefabrication throughout the datacenter infrastructure from the late 2000s onward, such as electrical skids or modularized chiller plants – even if the structures were still built with on-site construction.
The expertise PCX had gained in prefabricated packaging of electrical equipment proved valuable, and orders for prefabricated datacenter infrastructure started flowing in. Its customers are primarily IT OEMs and datacenter power and cooling equipment makers (it cannot disclose the names of its clients) that started asking PCX to take on the integration and manufacturing work for which they didn’t have sufficient expertise or appetite. PCX already knew the local US building codes and planning authorities, and is also known by them, speeding up design cycles and delivery.
PCX focuses primarily on the North American markets, with manufacturing in North Carolina – probably more than 90% of its business is generated in North America, although it has shipped units to European, Middle Eastern and Asian markets, too. The datacenter business is about one-third of its total business, with the retail and utility sectors dominating the rest.
PCX designs and manufactures various forms of PFM datacenter infrastructure per client specification: electrical skids on which major power distribution equipment is mounted to create integrated power-distribution systems; all-in-one containerized datacenters in ISO or customized form factors; and dedicated IT, power and cooling modules, again, in ISO-compliant or custom enclosure sizes. Modules can be joined up to create contiguous spaces or multi-floor stacks.
PCX is not a product company (it does not have a catalog of offerings); each of its designs is unique to the customer. It also performs the project-specific modifications that are pervasive in the datacenter industry. It does not, however, serve or promote itself to datacenter operators directly, since its involvement is always through partners. It acts as a best-of-breed integrator of components from various, oftentimes competing, vendors.
Datacenter operators that use PCX-made products include large multi-tenant datacenter providers, hyperscale companies, financial services, software and IT hardware vendors, and education institutions, among others. PCX expects that its revenue growth will be boosted not just by having more projects, but also by taking on the procurement and reselling of some electrical and cooling equipment (such as switchgear, uninterruptible power supplies, power distribution units, air handlers, etc.) to further simplify the process for its clients.
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