Trachte, Inc. Braun Road facility, Oregon, Wisconsin



Trachte Prefabricated Buildings
design flexible steel buildings

Data Capacity for Today and Tomorrow:
Shifting Modular Mindset and Method

Data Center

Trachte teams up with NxGen Modular on large-scale data center installation


Airport equipment
and nav-aids shelter
Cellular/ microwave site
Critical UPS and
instrumentation facility
Electrical control house
Emergency and
proprietary radio shelter
Equipment penthouse
Fiber optic hub shelter
Gas and oil application
Generator enclosure
Ground water remediation
Instrument shelter
Maintenance and
Mechanical room
(core module)
Medical equipment rooms
Metering and
instrumentation facility
Oil and gas applications
Power distribution
and drop-in module
Pump enclosure
Remote monitoring station
Skid mounted portable labs
Substation control room
Switchgear and
motor control shelter
Transportable repair
and maintenance shelter
Wind farm applications
WWTP (FRP option)

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Every smartphone needs a substantial amount of remote or “cloud” storage for speedy search and downloads. The thousands of “apps” we use today also rely on storage. Beyond telecom, banks, insurance firms, credit card companies and other Internet-dependent businesses must have readily available processing and storage capacity to support ever-increasing service demands.

Since cloud computing most assuredly takes place right here on earth, this capacity must continue to grow at exponential speed. At the heart of keeping up with this demand is rapid deployment of enormous data centers. And the need to build these facilities in a whole new way created a unique opportunity for Trachte.

Expensive, underutilized space pushes a new way of thinking about building data centers

Click for larger photos.

Data Center

Data Center

Interior of Data Center

Over the last 20-plus years that larger-scale data centers have been operated by end-users or management firms, a typical facility has been a 100- to 300-thousand sq. ft. building either site-built or developed by renovating a large warehouse. In many instances, these facilities have initially used only 20–30% of available space for operations with the balance reserved for future growth.

This approach requires up-front capital often in the range of $100 to $300 million which may not begin generating revenue for up to five years. Such an arrangement is both costly and inefficient.

The last 2–3 years has seen a gradual acceptance of designing and fabricating factory-built facilities instead of the traditional "build-on-site" method using contractors. This shift to a “modularity mindset” has led management companies toward building for today's capacity with scalability for the future.

A key player in this movement is NxGen Modular, headquartered in San Jose, California. NxGen provides customized and innovative solutions for the data center industry. NxGen approached Trachte three years ago with a request to team up to design and fabricate such a scalable building including configuring for server space.

Bruce Baxter, Vice President of Operations at NxGen, had performed about six months of due diligence researching building manufacturers including factory interviews. On selection criteria, Baxter remarked, “What was important to us was the length of time that Trachte has been in business, and that they could fabricate a very wide range of buildings at extremely high quality.”

With NxGen’s knowledge and pioneering work in this sector, teaming together made good sense. While NxGen specializes in data center technical aspects, a key strength was having a partner with expertise in the structural side of engineered building design and fabrication. “Trachte’s in-house engineering combined with our engineering staff created a very strong internal team,” Baxter said. “This eliminated the need for third-party engineering, which can drive up costs and increase delivery lead times.”

Aside from good business sense, key to project success was surmounting both mindset as well as technical challenges.

Unique challenges with data center size, fabrication schedules and transport logistics

A principle challenge with the installation was its physical size. Overall, the project involved some of the largest buildings Trachte has built in a modular format. The entire facility is 50' wide by 176' long consisting of twelve 50' modules varying in width from 12’ to 16’ and one attached security access building. Three modules house the majority of the power equipment including switchgear, UPS systems and batteries, while the remaining modules house servers and communications equipment.

At approximately 800,000 pounds (not including servers), unquestionably the center qualified as a large-scale modular building. More than 12,000 servers will ultimately be installed in the modules by the end-user. Modules were shipped with a portion of the server racks pre-installed.

“These are true buildings, not simply equipment enclosures,” Baxter noted. “Trachte has systems in place in their buildings such as fire and lightning protection, lighting and control systems. These buildings are much more sophisticated than enclosures. They are also manufactured within UBC/IBC codes and are licensed in more than 30 states.”

Another challenge involved taking every possible opportunity to compress the production schedule allowing the end-user to begin generating revenue quickly. At the initial time of ordering, it was predicted that the multi-module order would take 36 weeks from the initial design concept to delivery. Since Trachte and NxGen had previously been working on design concepts for the specialized building, and after receiving additional information from the end-user, delivery time was revised to 26 weeks. Ultimately, the project was completed in 20 weeks.

“With the installation being modular, everything moves so fast,” said Baxter. “All major decisions had to be made and committed to upfront, with no significant in-process changes allowed. Changes can affect manufacturing processes, which cut into lead times that cannot be absorbed and still meet delivery schedules.”

Predictably, oversize transport was needed to ship the buildings and due to their height, often times detours of more than 400 miles were necessary because of bridge, road construction and scale access limitations. Structural analysis confirmed that modules could handle the stresses of lengthy truck transport to the Northwest coast site with equipment (servers and racks, control switching and the like) already installed without compromising building integrity.

Baxter remarked that the toughest situation these buildings were likely to encounter was during transportation. “If they could make it through transport, which can include hitting potholes and such, they could make it through any seismic event that would occur at the West Coast location. A significant benefit is how robust Trachte structures are designed. The components, the fasteners, the welds are well engineered and installed with quality,” he added.

Since modules are principally stand-alone, they could be shipped separately before completion of the entire building, and have final connection and testing completed on site prior to the arrival of the remaining modules.

Data facilities require an enormous amount of power to operate and reliability is paramount. The specific location was chosen due to favorable power rates, moderate climate, relatively low costs, and favorable tax and financing availability. To give a sense of anticipated future growth, 160 acres were purchased by the end-user for this facility, yet only five acres are being used for this current installation.

Cooling is another major issue when installations are running thousands of servers. The facility includes eight ground-mounted AC units, each the size of a school bus, with a combined capacity equivalent to that required for cooling 350 average size homes. The Trachte/NxGen team also pre-installed related ductwork and internal AC controls.

Out-of-the-box thinking and teamwork encourage a positive future

With 100 years experience engineering specialized buildings, Trachte was well positioned to take on the unique thinking that the design and manufacture of this project required. Key to success was open-minded flexibility and employing new technology in a completely different way. This solution required 100 different considerations, made at breakneck speed in order to engineer, manufacture, ship and deliver the data center modules within project scope.

“I could trust that Trachte was committed to a partnership of proactively solving problems without placing blame,” Baxter said. “There’s a high level of trust and respect between our organizations, which is key because we move so fast that there simply isn’t time for delays and dissecting history.”

NxGen Modular installations are part of a unique group of completely modular data centers in existence today that incorporates this new design and construction approach. Although site-built in appearance, factory fabrication provided the advantages of high quality control and accelerated production schedules along with aesthetics.

“It’s a given that the quality would be there, so what was most important to the installation’s success was our business relationship,” Baxter remarked. “Working through key issues with a problem-solving attitude allows for repeated success and a good sense of teamwork between organizations. There’s a product development component to our relationship which fosters working together on the changes that make sense on the next installation.”

Baxter concludes that the business relationship is vitally important when one is on the spear point of implementing cutting-edge technology. “You’ve got to be able to resolve issues and problems at high speed,” he said.

The trend toward data center modularity is an encouraging sign for additional business for Trachte. As the industry grows to accept and become more comfortable with modular design construction while capacity demands increase, data centers like these will increasingly come on line. Expenditures in excess of $100 billion are projected over the next five to eight years to support Internet services, smart phone applications, banking, healthcare and many other industries – all requiring high capacity and efficient data storage, processing and transfer.

The NxGen/Trachte installation represents a long-term cost-effective approach to the rapidly evolving and growing data business. Large volumes of fast and reliable processing capacity must continually be built with speed and regularity. And vital to success are innovative modular facilities to house this capacity.


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