Data centers are the foundation of the digital world. Without them, there would be limited growth capacity in Cloud computing, IoT, 5G, Big Data, and AI. As the sheer amount of data generated grows exponentially, so does the need for innovation in data center technology. “As the data gets heavier and denser, it gets harder to move,” said Chris Sharp, CTO of Digital Realty, one of the largest data center providers. “There are data lakes. Now there’s the data ocean.”
In this article, we take a look at the top five data center industry trends in 2021. We’ll be covering more trends throughout the year, but we’ve currently focused on these five: colocation, cooling, talent, hyperscale, and sustainability, as an overview of the most significant.
Increase in Colocation
Over the past five years, there has been dynamic growth in the demand for building and leasing data center space. Globally, hyperscale platforms such as Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, Facebook, and other digitally-driven giants have leased tons of capacity at an extraordinary rate. The scale and velocity of this growth have changed the data center colocation business dramatically. Most of this hypergrowth happened in mature data center markets such as Northern Virginia in the United States, Amsterdam, and Singapore.
As digital infrastructure transforms countries around the world, consumers are using more and more data. Industries and individual companies continue their transition to cloud-based frameworks. Colocation developers are facing decisions about which markets to pursue next.
- Innovative Cooling Technologies
Now, let’s take a look at why cooling technology is critical to data centers. Cooling equipment and related technology are required to keep physical buildings at an ideal temperature around the clock. They are put in place to prevent critical IT hardware from overheating. Many companies have used traditional air conditioning methods for keeping a set temperature. Data center cooling systems include basic fans, cool outside air, and highly sophisticated heat transfer solutions.
There is no lack of innovation in data center cooling technology and the landscape is continuously changing. One solution involves using sea- or rainwater to reduce power consumption. AI is being used to analyze power usage and temperature settings and make adjustments in real-time. Cooling robots that monitor both temperature and humidity are also being deployed in data centers. There is also development around maritime and industrial technology, two-phase immersion, and rear-door heat exchangers.
Gartner estimates that ongoing power costs are rising at least 10 percent per year due to cost per kilowatt-hour (kwh) increases, especially for high power density servers. Gartner estimates that ongoing power costs are increasing at least 10 percent per year due to cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) increases in underlying demand, especially for high-power density servers.
Liquid-based cooling is one of the positive data center industry trends we’ll continue to see.
- Demand for Data Center Talent
In its 10th annual Global Data Center Survey, Uptime Institute showed that the one of the data center industry trends is getting worse. Staffing. Managers continue to have difficulty finding qualified candidates for open infrastructure positions. Women constitute less than 6% of the data center workforce. More effort is needed to address the workforce gender imbalance and tap into a larger and more diverse skilled talent pool.
Some of the issues in data center staffing shortage are new. For example, data storage management used to be a largely unnoticed role. Accelerated growth of unstructured data means companies need data storage professionals who can quickly adapt to changing needs of the business. It’s also critical that these individuals are hyper-aware of security measures and can deploy storage infrastructure that safeguards data. Roles in data storage are no longer only behind-the-scenes. These positions need skills to handle issues that are more complex, strategic, and critical to wider business success.
Another example is that IT applications are far more complex now than they were even just a decade ago. eCommerce platforms or core banking applications can have up to 20 tiers and corresponding dependencies. The level of complexity that has evolved requires more sophisticated and time-consuming troubleshooting. Once an organization addresses this need with appropriate staff and training, appropriate IT staff can focus on value-driven business outcomes.
In general terms, data center administrators have a core skill set and have been hired for a specific purpose. Organizations must provide the necessary tools and training for data center professionals to maximize their potential. Management can use a skills matrix to understand and communicate skill-set gaps. Since recruiting this type of talent is very challenging, company leaders need to invest time in being proactive members of internal and external recruitment teams. Building partnerships with industry groups, universities, and private and public sector training organizations is another necessary step.
These efforts will ensure a long-term pipeline of candidates qualified and invested in their data center careers.
- Build-out of Hyperscale Data Centers
What exactly is hyperscale? Simply put, it means fitting more IT equipment into less space. A hyperscale data center is a solution that enables digital platforms to store and transfer data more efficiently. They are needed to support scalable architectures of the global web, social media, streaming media, AI/Machine Learning, cloud gaming, and Cloud providers.
The data center market will continue to grow at an accelerated rate which means there will be a growing demand for hyperscale data centers in strategic locations globally. Build-outs will happen through bespoke development, leasing space from specialists, and contracting with global colocation providers. The scale is massive, provisioning compute, memory, network, and storage capacity across millions of interconnected servers deployed globally.
Hyperscale data centers must be highly connected and operate through diverse high-speed low latency fibre networks. The networks are capable of receiving and sending large volumes of data around the world in a matter of milliseconds. They will function as points of presence (PoPs) for leading international carriers and provide access to hundreds of ISPs. Deployment of cloud gateways that bypass the public Internet and connect directly into public cloud subsea cable infrastructure, such as Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute, will also be a prerequisite. Hyperscale data center owners, operators, and customers will have more control over the location and specification of global telecom networks.
The foundation of hyperscale includes the following attributes: high-density server racks, innovation in cooling technology, power consumption, and impeccable security. Most of the largest hyperscale centers are operated by companies like Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and Google. There are companies like Switch that operate gigantic hyperscale data centers and rent out to many large corporations.
- Best Practices in Data Center Sustainability
Where is the data center industry at with sustainability goals? In a global survey commissioned by Equinix, 45 percent of IT decision-makers report that customers want sustainability in IT infrastructure. One big data center trend to follow is how companies will make more energy-efficient solutions and commitments to address both customers and regulators.
Imagine a data center that captures the heat generated by servers and uses it as a supplemental power source. While this may not be economically feasible today, continuously trying to bring ideas like this to reality is essential to bring about positive change. Making data centers as environmentally friendly and energy-efficient as possible must remain a major global industry focus. Government incentives such as those in the EU surrounding the use of renewably sourced power will help support sustainable practices.
Many conventional data centers consume thousands of gallons of water a day, so data center providers will be striving to optimize Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) – not just PUE. Companies are committed to using air-cooled chillers featuring a closed-loop system that requires no ongoing water source. Also, expect to see growing innovation around on-site renewable energy generation for power not dedicated to cooling and operating servers.
New data centers are being built to provide renewable energy options that allow customers to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from renewable resources such as wind, sun, and biomass. Several data center providers are now installing water-free mechanical systems that leverage cool air from outside.
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