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ISO Containers are NOT a good data center solution

Regardless of how you define the network “EDGE”, network capacity in closer proximity to the consumption and production of data is a requirement. When exploring data center solutions, the ISO shipping container is frequently part of the discussion. Modular, purpose built enclosures are a great solution for data centers. Modular hyperscale buildings like CyrusOne and Microsoft, enterprise data systems, and telecom systems are all a perfect fit for modular, but not shipping containers.

ISO containers, CONEX boxes, shipping containers etc. are used for the transport of freight. They are manufactured according to specifications that define a shipping container that meets size, strength, and durability requirements of the box. (not the contents)

Standard containers are 8’6″ tall and High-Cube containers are 9’6″ tall, but they are both only 8 feet wide. The restrictive width is the primary issue with data center containers. Data racks require at-least 3 feet of front access for functional use and loading of servers. The back of the racks need 3 foot from the wall for cooling, electrical working clearance, and OSHA and NFPA guidelines. Standard data racks are 3.5 foot deep. To work within a less than 8 foot wide interior, the layout is limiting, awkward and inefficient.

The practical space required for a single row of racks is 9.5 feet. A purpose built, modular enclosure is a better solution. Modular data centers need to provide safe clearances and have the familiarity and functionality of a standard data center aisle.

When building a modular data center, the walls are not the bulk of the cost, and should not be a limiting factor. It is true that containers are cheap and readily available, 80% of them are made in China to ship goods all over the world, and the Americas get a steady surplus of these metal boxes. To make them suitable for a data center (even a limited one with few racks) requires significant modification. Cleaning, repair, painting, insulating, door installation and more must be done to provide acceptable white space. These modifications are time consuming and costly, this quickly eats up the initial savings from that “cheap” shipping container.

Purpose built modular data centers are the safest, most efficient, and most functional way to add capacity for any network.