A consensus appears to be growing in the IT and telecommunications industry that edge computing will be critical to the future of digital services. While there are various technical and business drivers for edge capacity, the underlying notion they all share is that centralized datacenter sites alone will not suffice for either practical reasons (e.g., latency and criticality requirements) or economic reasons (e.g., wide-area network costs, high-performance clusters). Use cases span a wide range, including industrial data and control systems, transport, retail, financial services and HPC.

This edge capacity will come in many shapes and forms, from smart network devices to standalone IT systems to datacenter facilities both large and small. Of these choices, 451 Research views micro-modular datacenters (MMDCs) as particularly versatile to address various needs. In this report, we offer an overview of some of the key MMDC vendors that 451 has identified. The purpose of this list is not to be comprehensive, but to showcase some designs on offer and demonstrate the growing activity in the area. We have also included some examples that are not in a strict sense micro-modular systems, but directly compete with MMDCs for more considerable capacity needs. An upcoming report will discuss our market-sizing methodology and future projection in detail, partly in response to questions that we regularly field.

The 451 Take
It is still early days for MMDCs and next-generation edge facilities in general, yet the number of major providers that have entered the market reveals a bullish consensus. No two companies offer the same tradeoffs, or take the same approach to the market. While we expect more commonalities in the future as it becomes clearer what works best for customers, the vendor landscape will likely remain fragmented, as will their engineering choices.

We anticipate not fewer but more MMDC varieties to appear in response to customer needs and specificities in different verticals. A unit sitting in a bank's branch office running data-protection and security systems will likely be rather different from those running highly automated oceangoing container ships and ports in the future. The engineering challenge that distributed edge computing poses will continue to stimulate further innovation for a long time to come. We believe much of that will culminate in novel MMDC designs.

Although the usefulness (and necessity) of small prefabricated modular facilities is well understood in the telecom vertical, their adoption for datacenter applications is lagging despite evidence of their viability. This is changing with more edge installations servicing critical on-premises enterprise workloads, next-generation networks, and next-generation industrial sensory data and control systems, as well as other applications.

We define MMDCs as IT cabinets that are encapsulated in their own protective shell with built-in cooling, uninterruptible power supply network connectivity, physical security and shock absorption. They offer numerous advantages over traditional design, build and operate practices. Performance is guaranteed as the self-contained units are engineered using computational fluid dynamics and built-in factory environments. Site preparations are made less complex and on-site installation work is minimized, thus lowering labor costs and disruption to the site. Additionally, MMDCs have a smaller footprint than 'macro' room environments, optimizing real estate.

Such features matter regardless of size and use case. However, it is distributed edge computing where MMDCs shine for their small size and 'plug and play' installation. With the expansion of both supply and demand, we expect sales of MMDCs to accelerate in the coming years. In our updated forecast, we project sales to approach $30m in 2018. A nascent product category today, MMDCs will play an important role in the development of edge computing in the future. For a more detailed discussion of MMDCs and their applicability, see our previous report.

Select vendors
MMDCs come in various shapes and sizes to target different applications – capacity starts as low as 1kW in a box and, at the other end of the scale, they have very high densities supported by high-performance chilled-water coolers or direct liquid cooling to the chip. Even though most products are single-cabinet (some are half- or quarter-cabinet), there are multi-cabinet designs for larger workloads, some of which can scale to a dozen or more conjoined units to create a larger block of capacity and typically at a lower cost than traditional build approaches.

Below is a list that demonstrates the diverse range of options for MMDCs, plus some non-MMDC examples that we have included for their relevance. This is a selection of suppliers - a comprehensive list will be part of our annual market-sizing and forecast study for prefabricated and modular datacenters, the next release of which is due to be published in the second quarter of 2018.

Baselayer Technology and Vapor IO
Baselayer Technology has a range of prefabricated modular (PFM) products and datacenter infrastructure management (DCIM) software. The company has teamed up with datacenter technology startup Vapor IO to offer a complete edge facility. The MMDC houses Vapor's cylindrical containment system and integrates with its edge orchestration software that gives IT workloads visibility of the physical layer. Vapor is very active in the telecom space and won investment and a pilot project from radio and fiber operator Crown Castle International last fall.

Cannon Technologies
UK-based Cannon Technologies was founded in 1978, initially to serve the military, telecom and industrial verticals with technical facilities – command-and-control systems, and communication modules. Later, the company developed internal datacenter infrastructure products such as racks, cabling, power distribution, cooling and containment systems. Its Mini Data Centre MMDC line consists of high-performance (20kW-plus per rack) multi-cabinet options with chilled-water cooling units, ideal for high-performance systems. Cannon has international offices in the US, Dubai and South Africa, and distribution partners in more than a dozen markets, mostly in Europe, Middle East and Africa, but also in the US and Australia. Its manufacturing base is in the UK, with an assembly plant in the US.

Compass Datacenters
Compass Datacenters recently purchased US-based startups EdgePoint Systems, a PFM datacenter engineering firm, and BitBox USA, a DCIM software developer, from a common owner for an undisclosed sum. The combination will provide Compass the means to offer datacenter services in a smaller form factor than its larger datacenter builds, primarily with edge locations, customer premises and mission-critical applications in mind. The integrated offering, Compass EdgePoint, is not an MMDC but a small containerized datacenter with 10 cabinet positions and can support 80kW of maximum capacity. The compact design competes with multi-cabinet MMDC installations, and the financial and organizational resources that Compass lines up behind the concept are novel.

Dell Technologies
At 2016's Dell EMC World, the company demonstrated its new MMDC product, the Modular Data Center, offered by its Extreme Scale Infrastructure division. The MMDCs are small (the company compares it with less than half the size of a parking spot), pre-integrated units that can be built to client specifications. It can be placed both indoors and outdoors, have one or more racks and be configured with all IT equipment or a mix of IT and power and cooling. The baseline design Dell demonstrated housed two cabinets. The MMDCs can be tailored to a variety of workloads based on the customer's needs (low- to high-density), and include smoke detection and fire suppression/containment.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise
In 2016, HPE and Schneider Electric entered an OEM agreement in which Schneider supplies HPE-tailored, micro-modular products that are branded and sold by HPE as Micro Datacenter. In 2017, HPE expanded its MMDC offerings with a partnership with electrical engineering giant ABB and datacenter equipment manufacturer Rittal to target next-generation data acquisition and control systems in manufacturing, utilities and maritime. The company has placed some major bets on the Internet of Things in general, one of the few areas that promises the hope of growth in a generally eroding enterprise IT market.

Instant Data Centers
Privately held Instant Data Centers (IDC) owns the intellectual property of the now-defunct Elliptical Mobile Solutions, a pioneer in MMDC designs. IDC has developed a wide range of MMDCs for both office and harsh environments such as oil rigs, mines, military deployments and manufacturing sites. The company's MMDCs are flexibly engineered to enable customer customization. IDC also promotes new installation styles such as integrating its micro-modular rows in a container to provide a robust shelter and additional space for storage and field technicians.

Schneider Electric
Schneider Electric, a market leader in critical power, software and services, entered the MMDC space after buying Spain-based containerized specialist AST Modular in 2014. AST Modular had developed MMDCs called SmartBunkers that were designed mostly for office use as an alternative to network closets and server rooms. Schneider later reengineered the original SmartBunkers, incorporating its own power and cooling technologies. The company's Xpress line of MMDCs are fully integrated to specifications in a factory environment, including IT equipment.

STULZ, a privately held datacenter and critical infrastructure-cooling specialist based in Germany, launched a new family of MMDCs in 2017. The products are the results of its 2016 acquisition of UK-based Technology Space Integration, a maker of prefabricated modular datacenter facilities. Cooling capacity options for the MMDCs range from as little as 3kW to an extreme of over 100kW per IT rack when air and direct-liquid cooling (a cold-plate system from CoolIT) are both installed to work in conjunction. The company hopes to attract customers from a wide variety of verticals.

Vertiv is one of the largest suppliers of datacenter technologies, just behind Schneider in overall sales. It was formerly the datacenter business of Emerson Electric, which divested it in late 2016 for $4bn, creating the largest independent provider of power, cooling, services and management software to datacenter operators and telcos. Vertiv's experience in prefabrication, specifically in telecom shelters and street cabinets, makes it well prepared for producing MMDCs that range from enclosed rack to row options that can be deployed in an office or warehouse environment with low- and medium-density loads. Vertiv is in the middle of building out its productized edge offerings.

As noted, this Spotlight is a follow-up to a previous report. An updated market forecast on MMDCs - and the broader prefabricated modular datacenter market - will be published next quarter.
Rhonda Ascierto
Research Director, Datacenter Technologies & Eco-Efficient IT

Rhonda Ascierto is Research Director for the Datacenter Technologies and Eco-Efficient IT Channel at 451 Research. She has spent more than 15 years at the crossroads of IT and business as an analyst, speaker, adviser and editor covering the technology and competitive forces that shape the global IT industry. Rhonda’s focus is on innovation and disruptive technologies in datacenters and critical infrastructure, including those that enable the efficient use of all resources.

Daniel Bizo
Senior Analyst, Datacenter Technologies

Daniel Bizo is a Senior Analyst for Datacenter Technologies Channel at 451 Research. His research focuses on advanced datacenter design, build and operations, such as prefabricated modular datacenters, highly efficient cooling and integrated facilities and IT management to achieve superior economics.Daniel is also a regular contributor to 451 Research's silicon and systems technology research in the Systems and Software Infrastructure Channel.

Rosanna Jimenez
Research Associate

Rosanna Jimenez is a Research Associate at 451 Research. Prior to joining the analyst team, Rosanna worked with 451 Research sales supporting vendor and end-user research requests.

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