Design concerns for a micro data centre

04 June 2021

Vik Malyala, senior vice president, Supermicro

Vik Malyala, senior vice president, Supermicro

As more computing moves to the edge and away from massive data centres, the need for a new type of data centre is becoming a critical piece of an edge to cloud strategy. Traditionally, large data centres have resided where there is a significant amount of space with easy access to low-cost power and multiple internet connections.

However, new and smaller data centres that serve specific purposes are becoming a requirement for managing and filtering the vast amounts of data generated from 5G and IoT devices. By distributing the collection, analysis, and filtering of data closer to the edge of the network, new services can be created that respond quickly, reduce network traffic, and allow for more intelligent decisions.

Micro data centres that live closer to the physical location of data generation (for latency reduction purposes) can be designed and built quickly without significant corporate data centres or public cloud data centres. Because a micro data centre brings systems closer to its users – and the user closer to the server – latency may be lower than in a traditional data centre. This capability is one of the main reasons why companies are opting to move towards micro data centres and edge computing. Because, ultimately, the low latency aspect will help increase the speed of data processing, thereby boost efficiency and make many (highly complex) processes run faster and smoother.

To this end, there are a few items that need to be considered when designing and implementing a micro data centre.

1. Find A Location – A micro data centre needs to reside close to where the devices are located. Due to the limited range of Wi-Fi signals or other short range communication technology, locating the servers within a factory, store, or even at the base of a wireless cell tower is preferable. Micro data centres would typically be constructed from just a few servers, specifically chosen for a set of specific applications. Picking the right location for a micro data centre, which can perform assigned tasks, is critical for the uninterrupted performance of a small data centre.

2. Understand the Environment – Servers in a micro data centre may or may not look like traditional data centre servers. Rather than residing in a closely controlled environment (temperature, humidity, filtered air), these systems may need to withstand higher temperatures without additional cooling assistance. The servers may need to be “fanless,” which means that the CPU heat dissipation is minimal and can cool itself. However, there may be restrictions on the ambient temperature where the servers are located. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand the surroundings and conditions of where these servers are based and that the selected servers need to be sized to perform their function and work in the end environment. In addition, these servers will only need to draw as much power as can be delivered to their unique – often rather rural or remote – location and may not have redundant power available.

In some cases, a single server will become a micro data centre and may be located outdoors or in a poorly ventilated closet. A telecommunications standard, NEBS (Network Equipment-Building System) Level 3, specifies several operating conditions that specific equipment must work within. Since these conditions are significantly more varied than for a large data centre, servers must be designed and tested under these conditions.

3. Understand Connectivity – Since a server in a micro data centre will most likely need to communicate upstream to larger data centres, it is essential to plan for and outfit the space with the wiring necessary for communication to other corporate systems. This may include the connections to the corporate network and possibly other facilities, whether inside a firewall or externally to the internet.

4. Select the Right Form Factor – As micro data centres may need to be placed in a confined space, the physical dimensions of the server may be quite different than in a more significant data centre. The measurements that a server may occupy are not standard. While, in general, a larger (physical) server can do more work, smaller servers are designed to perform specific tasks. They can use smaller form factors, as expandability may not be necessary.

5. Reliability and efficiency – Depending on the location of the micro data centre, servers need to be highly reliable, efficient, have long lifecycle support as IT staff, available power, access to systems for repairs, downtime, logistics etc can get quite cumbersome and expensive.

More micro data centres are appearing as greater amounts of data is being generated at the edge. There is a growing need to house servers in various form factors closer to where data is being generated, with the ability to perform analytics and filter the data before sending upstream to larger capacity systems. Although there are benefits and needs for massive scale data centres, this new reality of a distributed data centre will grow as more data is generated all the time, everywhere and by anyone.