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What is a Micro Data Center (MDC)?

With the need for edge computing growing exponentially, more and more edge applications popping up all the time, and businesses of all types needing to run applications locally to reduce latency and support instantaneous computing, the micro data center concept provides an affordable, reliable, space-saving IT solution that is ideal for anywhere critical, small-footprint compute resources are needed.

What is a Micro Data Center (MDC)?

A micro data center (MDC) is a smaller version of the traditional data center but with all the storage, computing, networking, cooling, and power infrastructure found in a typical data center. Most micro data centers contain server racks, network equipment, servers, and in-rack cooling tools. Other components include uninterruptible power supplies, power distribution units, fire suppression technology, physical security measures, etc. MDCs vary in size depending on the location to be deployed and the expected use cases.

Often, MDCs come preassembled. So all the equipment is typically preinstalled in the server racks. Before deploying these units, IT staff will only need to install additional network components, and configure, and monitor the equipment to ensure optimal operation. Similarly, these units are modular in nature, meaning you can easily swap one element for another in case of failure without disrupting the entire system.

Today, several business models are moving from centralized data centers such as Microsoft Azure and AWS to agile edge computing architecture, thanks to MDCs. One of the main benefits of using MDCs is that they bring edge computing to the real world and closer to the end-users and data sources. This enhances faster deployment times, lower latency, and higher scalability while reducing operating costs.

micro data center

How does MDC work?

The nuts and bolts of how any given MDC works will depend on the specific components (switch gear, servers, power, cooling) installed. However, at a high level, most micro data centers are deployed, provisioned, and maintained similarly.

Often, micro data centers ship preassembled, meaning the equipment is preinstalled in a server rack(s). Upon receipt, IT staff will install any additional components and connect the network and power cabling within the MDC. From there, IT can connect the MDC to an existing utility power source or have an electrician provision a new circuit for larger installations.

Once the MDC is up and running, IT staff or an MSP (managed service provider) are responsible for the configuration and monitoring of the equipment. For large replicated MDC deployments, configuration management tools and enterprise network monitoring solutions are common.

Advantages of a Micro Data Center

There are many reasons that prefabricated MDCs are rapidly gaining popularity among busy data center managers, including:

  • Speed and convenience. It eliminates the complicated legwork involved in specifying the various components of an IT solution that can support smaller critical loads locally or at the edge. That specification is already done for you. The pre-built solution enables fast deployment, usually in a matter of days.
  • Seamless integration. It is pre-integrated in the factory and tested to ensure all components work together for a comprehensive, highly reliable, and highly efficient solution. In many cases, micro data centers offer a true plug-and-play system that dramatically simplifies installation and immediately begins working to satisfy your IT requirements.
  • Built-in monitoring. Many micro data centers come with pre-integrated sensors and include software that supports centralized monitoring and control. You gain visibility into the individual rack environment and can monitor it at the outlet level. And you can remotely control all system components from a single IP address, making micro data centers especially valuable in remote sites where IT staff is limited.
  • Customization options. While the beauty of a micro data center lies in the fact that the components are already pieced together for you, you usually do have some options, allowing you to customize a solution. For example, you can often choose between several standard sizes and voltage options. You can also add accessories to further tailor the solution to meet your needs.
  • Standardization. It supports standardization across multiple deployments where you have smaller critical loads to support. Standardizing on a single style of rack simplifies the workload for your IT team and makes maintaining your distributed IT infrastructure much more efficient.
  • Peace of mind. Often, MDCs come with comprehensive warranties that cover the entire system. If something goes wrong with any single component, the warranty covers the replacement, repair, and reintegration of the component so that the system is fully restored.

Micro Data Center Use Cases

Micro data centers are great for any organization that’s short on time, space, or resources. Small to midsize businesses can use it to support their onsite applications and services without placing too much burden on IT staff. It is also ideal for edge applications in a wide range of environments.

Industry-specific micro data center use cases include:

  • Retail: Retail stores can benefit from onsite micro data centers that can capture and analyze customer data in real-time and support digital signage and other retail experience technologies. Micro data centers can also help to streamline inventory management, product replenishment, and other logistical processes. By establishing standards, retailers can enable rapid buildout of new locations and consistency across the environment.
  • Manufacturing: Today’s manufacturing facilities rely upon Internet of Things (IoT) devices to capture data about the functioning of equipment to enable predictive maintenance. Modular data centers can support IoT applications and provide the information needed to improve availability and product quality.
  • Healthcare: Healthcare organizations need the ability to store, process, and analyze large volumes of patient data. As these organizations open more remote clinics, diagnostic facilities, and other locations, micro data centers help ensure the security and privacy of data with minimal application latency. MDCs also help improve supply chain efficiency.
  • Higher Education: With the proliferation of online learning platforms and remote campuses, colleges and universities have been challenged with improving their networking capabilities. Strategically placed micro data centers can help reduce latency and enable students and researchers quicker access to their resources and data. Additionally, micro data centers can help enable the implementation of smart campuses and often offer built-in security and monitoring capabilities, adding a layer of security to sensitive data.

micro data center

Are Micro Data Centers right for your business?

Now that you know what edge computing and micro data centers are, you can easily weigh if these two technologies are right for your business. The ability to scale up or down with MDC makes this option quite irresistible among companies with future growth or expansion plans.

For applications that rely on AI and machine learning capabilities, the bandwidth and latency costs associated with the public cloud can be quite high. This makes micro data centers the ultimate solution for reducing costs and deployment times while increasing scalability and resilience.

Similarly, companies considering on-premise data centers can save a lot of money and time by adopting MDCs instead. This is because micro data centers are simple and ready to go, with little to no modification.

Conclusion

This wide range of applications has also led to a great wave of innovation. Expect micro data centers to change in density, size, shape, cooling types (including liquid cooling), sustainable power sources (including lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells), and levels of reliability.

The surge in demand for micro data centers is inevitable, but it will take time. Many of the economic and technical innovations are still in their infancy; 5G, one of the key underlying catalysts, is in its early stages. In the near future, much of the driving force behind the use of micro data centers will lie in their ability to ensure local availability, in the event of network failures.

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