The future of data centres – trends and industry overview
The global pandemic has brought a whole new set of challenges to the world. It forced companies to work remotely and schools to teach remotely - and in many cases it has accelerated the speed in which they created the necessary scenarios. Consequently, the need for rapid access to information has been extremely challenging for data centres. According to statista.com, the total amount of data created, captured, copied, and consumed in the world is estimated to reach 79 zettabytes in 2021 1. Maintaining the availability and quality of online services during the pandemic, while at the same time facing increasing demand in general, much of it driven by IoT growth, is no simple task. The pandemic has underlined the important role of data centres not only in ensuring that IT companies function but also the daily lives of ordinary users. Will what we are seeing accelerate the development of data centres and what will future data centres look like?
Data Centres: Industry overview
The data centre services market was valued at $48.9 billion in 2020. It is speculated that by 2026 this figure will increase to $105.6 billion 2. According to the Data Center Services Market Report, the main drivers of growth are 3:
- The Next Normal in form of remote work,
- Digitisation of existing processes,
- Growing industrial sector using digital technologies,
- Rise in the number of SMEs adopting digital technologies,
- Growing use of Over-the-Top (OTT) services, a new method of delivering film and television directly via the intenet, without the need for traditional cable or satellite broadcasting,
- Development of data-generating and data-hungry technologies, such as IoT or Machine Learning (ML).
We are seeing a large growth in technologies that require data centres – for example, the growing demand for cloud services, whose providers opt for external data centres. This is the trend as in-house data centres require much larger investments, both for their construction and their subsequent maintenance.
Data centre trends
One of the effects of the global pandemic was the way work shifted to online. While, parallel to this, the amount of staff allowed on-site was significantly reduced in many countries. One of the ways data centres of the future will deal with such issues is to fully or partially automate work, by adapting AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solutions.
Edge computing will play a huge role in the development of future data centres. As more and more people adopt smart solutions, not only in companies but also in their own homes, the demand for edge computing will continue to grow, and so will the demand for edge computing devices. This in turn will change data centres as the decentralisation of computing power will have a direct impact on the type of data centre we will be seeing in the future. According to statista.com, the value of the global smart home market will increase to $53.45 billion by 2022 4.
It is also worth considering the relationship between edge computing with the 5g network as an alternative to classical data centres, which will allow the faster development of applications related to AI or the IoT.
Edge computing allows data to be processed closer to the source, reducing latency. This is likely to lead to the development of mobile data centres, which can easily be situated, for example, near large sports events, concerts, etc. This solution can also eliminate connectivity problems in remote areas.
As businesses become more and more aware of climate change and are urged to act quickly, data centres also need to integrate sustainability into their strategies.
According to the Journal of Science 5, data centres were responsible for 1% of the world’s total energy consumption. However, the workload of data centres between 2010 and 2020 increased 6-fold, while the level of energy consumption did not increase proportionally to these numbers. This indicates the advances in data centre technology in the form of new CPU technologies as well as more energy-efficient storage solutions such as Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe).
However, data centres of the future are set to be even more environmentally friendly. The demand for data storage is certainly not going to slow down, but data centres will be expanding and improving their use of of data compression, deduplication, and other efficiency-enhancing methods. An additional factor is that the cooling of modern data centres is carried out with liquid or even so-called passive systems. Air cooling, which has been used to date to maintain the good condition of servers, consumes a huge amount of resources. Liquid cooling, on the other hand, enables the rapid reduction in temperature and energy consumption and is often set up as a closed ecological cycle. Passively cooled systems with the latest technology in terms of components that consume significantly less power and tolerate higher temperatures will be significantly more predominant in the future.
Future data centres are also being designed and located for better efficiency. A good example of these are Google, Facebook, and Amazon, who have purchased land in Sweden to build data centres on, as in a cooler region fewer resources are required for cooling the servers. Microsoft is taking an altogether more unusual, but very promising route with its Project Natick, which researches the options of deploying subsea datacenters. Placed on the seabed, cocooned from corrosive oxygen, moisture and bumps, data centres can seemingly thrive. At least the servers of Naticks underwater data center with 864 servers and 27.6 petabytes of disk (roughly 27.6 million gigabytes) showed a failure rate of 1/8th that of a land-based control group, according to Microsoft. And with natural seawater acting as the coolant it will even be an environmental win.