HP is bringing prefab building construction to the data centre world.

Using prefabricated buildings can cut the upfront cost of designing and constructing a data center in half while also reducing  energy consumption, says Peter Gross, vice president and general manager of HP's Critical Facilities Services division. Gross is the former CEO of EYP Mission Critical Facilities, an engineering company specializing in data center design and operations that HP acquired in late 2007.

"Most people don't realise how expensive and how complicated data centres are. To build a typical enterprise data centre, for a midsize bank for instance, you're going to spend between $40 million and $100 million before the first server is even installed," Gross says.

The goal of HP's new Flexible Data Center is to reduce capital expenses and operating expenses while increasing flexibility and allowing customers to add capacity as needed, Gross says.

"What we're proposing is an industrialised, very standardised, and supply-chain-management-driven process that will fabricate the main components," Gross says. The modular components will be constructed at a factory, where they will be tested and then shipped to the site and assembled like Legos, he says.

HP's Flexible DC is based on a butterfly design, with four prefabricated building quadrants that surround a central administrative section. Each quadrant has a capacity of 800 kilowatts. When four quadrants are constructed and fitted out, the combined capacity of the facility is 3.2 megawatts.

The core building accommodates security, shipping and receiving areas, network areas, a network operating centre, administration areas, staff space and meeting rooms. Exterior power supplies and air handlers (prefabricated) save space inside the core modular pods, which can be built when needed. Customers can choose from four cooling methods, and HP tunes the mechanical systems to the local environment.

Using prefabricated components shortens the time it would take to build a traditional brick-and-mortar data centre - from two or more years to nine months or less - by moving construction labor from the field to the factory, Gross says. Project management, therefore, is all about supply chain management, not the traditional custom design and construction processes common in traditional data centre construction.

"Legacy data centres have always been built in a very parochial, extremely customised fashion. Every time you build a data centre, you reinvent a lot of the elements. There's a great deal of upfront consultancy... and it's very expensive and not a repeatable process," he says.

Consultants in HP's Critical Facilities Services group can collaborate with clients to help with the planning and implementation of the data centre components. "Owners will be able to build exactly what they need, in a very fast, scalable manner."