Experts from across the data centre spectrum review a year unlike any other – and preview what they think lies ahead in 2021
The Data Centre in 2020 — Expert Roundup
Fri 11 Dec 2020
Steven Wright, COO, 4D Data Centres
Colocation facilities like ours at 4D fared well in 2020. The multiple tenants that host in our data centres had minimal service disruptions thanks to a combination of resilient design, preparedness for disruptions of any kind, and the important work we performed with techUK and the Government. The Government declared that data centres are essential infrastructure this year, which allowed maintenance and upgrades to run through the lockdowns.
Remote hands and eyes services became particularly valuable in 2020. Companies didn’t want to send their own technical staff to visit their colocation sites, so they relied even more on data centre engineers to carry out maintenance and deploy new hardware. At 4D we provided unlimited remote hands to customers, and our excellent team had the skill and knowledge to keep up with the significant increase in demand.
Working from home isn’t going to go away in 2021, and the way companies operate is going to change. Fixed office spaces are going to be downsized or disposed of, allowing companies to save significant rental costs. The impact this will have on IT is that there will be an increased reliance on colocation facilities as companies look to move their IT out of their dedicated server rooms. IT managers will be equipping themselves with knowledge to compare data centres and make the best choice.
They’ll also be advancing hybrid IT systems, combining owned hardware with cloud solutions and the other services data centres provide. In the last 9 months we have seen a significant increase in the amount of companies adopting hybrid cloud, thanks to it being a flexible and reliable IT solution which can quickly adapt to new ways of working. The services people request from colocation data centres are going to be much more comprehensive. IT managers will be looking for more than just power and space for their servers and will also want networking, cloud and cyber security services all as one hybrid bundle. Data centres are going to be central to the digital transformation of a lot of companies in 2021.
Jonathan Evans, Director, Total Data Centre Solutions
In 2011, around a redundant NATO ammunition store/cave on the side of a fjord on an island near Stavanger, I met the CEO of what was to be Green Mountain Data Center who explained he was to create the ‘Greenest Datacenter in the world’ in this unlikely location. So it was in next 2 years the caves were transformed into a data centre. It combined hydro power from turbines fed under high pressure from lakes and reservoirs in the region with a clever cooling solution, which draws cold water from deep in the fjord into a heat exchanger which cools the hot water from the datacenter. The only energy required for the cooling is are the circulating pumps!
The sustainability story at that time was a ‘hard sell’ and it was not high up on the corporate agenda. Since there has been a slow but dramatic change in corporate attitude to sustainability as the ‘climate change’ lobby grows in strength and the sustainability officer has greater leverage at Board level.
I now work with EcoDatacenter in Sweden which is actually ‘climate positive’. Why? Because it’s built of wood, not any old wood planks. It is ‘GlueLam’ – an engineered timber created by cross-laminating and gluing, under high pressure, timber for constructing anything from airport terminals to hotels (up to 18 storeys 50m high) and houses, primarily in the Nordic regions.
Gluelam has similar or better fire resistance capability than steel frame buildings. The surface build-up of carbon limits the oxygen supply to the wood below and acts as an insulator. Therefore, the wood below the charred level, retains 85 to 90 per cent of its structural integrity. This means there is embedded carbon in the material, totally different to concrete and steel! In addition the waste server heat is reused in the local community for heating and manufacturing wood pellets.
These examples are down to critical site selection criteria. Examples of technologies I am involved with include immersion cooling where servers are immersed in a bath of nonconductive liquid instead of using air as a cooling medium. This may be counterintuitive but the reductions in cooling energy demand are huge, just switching off the fans in the racks saves 10% of the power demand. This solution is also more compact, quiet and requires less time and money for infrastructure build.
We are also promoting a solution for multi MW battery storage combined with solar panels to provide power cost savings and reduced carbon footprint. The battery also helps stabilise the grid as the reliance on wind and solar generation increases.
There have been recent programmes and articles portraying the data centre sector as being one of the worst polluters because of the power they use but this doesn’t take into account the massive amounts of work being undertaken by Google, Facebook, the Nordic datacenters and others to reduce the carbon footprint or the amount of ‘good’ that comes from us living in this connected world!
Gabriel Bonilha, EMEA Professional Services Manager, Vertiv
For a lot of businesses, 2020 has marked a permanent shift from analog to digital. Companies have implemented cloud-based technologies that help them keep teams connected, make faster decisions and create more efficient workflows. The result? There is a rising demand for high density data processing, and the Edge has a critical role in meeting this need. It is for this reason that 35%+ of our partners saw their customer’s Edge investments grow substantially, according to research from Canalys, and why increasing demand will necessitate more resilient and intelligent Edge infrastructure.
Looking ahead to 2021, the role of Edge will transform from supportive to mission-critical. Demand for Edge infrastructure will continue to accelerate, as businesses and consumers explore a host of technologies, such as AR, VR and IoT as a means to engage and communicate. Edge is key in supporting these solutions and addressing issues around low latency, as many will continue to work from home in some form, with 74% of businesses planning to maintain the trend in home-working, according to research from the Institute of Directors (IoD).
On a larger scale, Edge infrastructure remains integral for the advancement of smart cities, smart transportation and even smart venues – with the postponement of major sporting events triggering the development of XR on a mass-scale. Therefore, we anticipate a continued focus on bringing hyperscale and enterprise-level capabilities to these Edge sites, including increased emphasis on availability and thermal management, and more attention to energy-efficiency across systems. Not all Edge infrastructure needs to be built from scratch, though. By upgrading legacy infrastructure in Telcos, which have a wide real estate footprint ripe for conversion, and by using easy to build modular prefabricated data-centres, the UK (and the rest of Europe) is well positioned to keep up with demand for Edge data processing.
Whilst Edge will become more and more relevant, on-premises infrastructure (with modern racks) co-located with offices, venues and cities etc, will remain valuable options when building end-to-end infrastructure strategies. The future is bright for the Edge, but if it is to succeed, we must first address the remaining legacy infrastructure within organisations in order to reap all its benefits. Implemented correctly, not only will Edge enable better and faster decisions and workflows, but will also help drive a more sustainable future.
Chris Cutler, Business Development Manager, Riello UPS
The biggest lesson from the past 12 months is that ‘the show must go on’. Downtime isn’t tolerated in this industry even during ‘normal’ times, so the demands we’ve faced throughout the coronavirus crisis are fundamentally the same – to ensure data centres and similarly mission-critical sites have a stable and continuous power supply.
Of course, we’ve had to be flexible, adapting to ever-changing circumstances and government guidance. And during the pandemic’s first couple of months when restrictions were at their tightest, we did take the tough decision to postpone non-essential works so we could prioritise our resources to the most urgent callouts and key sites such as the health and emergency services and telecoms providers.
While it’s not quite back to ‘business as usual’, these last few months have seen something of a return to normality. We’ve been safely servicing, repairing, and replacing existing critical infrastructure, as well as installing new capacity as required.
From a power perspective, there are a couple of ongoing trends that are likely to continue in the coming months: power density and scalability. Really, the two go hand-in-hand.
As hyperscale and cloud facilities keep cranking up their rack densities, data centres need highly-concentrated power in a compact footprint more than ever. These qualities are also crucial with edge applications, where space is often at an even bigger premium.
Similarly, facilities like colocation data centres require the flexibility to quickly scale-up power to meet the demands of organisations shifting IT resource off-premises. That’s why we’d predict ‘pay as you grow’ modular UPS to remain the go-to solution.
The pandemic has also proved the worth of remote monitoring and management software, as many sites have been forced to operate with reduced levels of staffing or have key personnel carrying out many of their duties remotely.
5G & Hyperscale Demands
Steven Carlini, VP Innovation and Data Centre, Schneider Electric
With many construction projects now well underway again, we expect to see continued growth across the full spectrum of data centre service provision – from colocation providers all the way to the hyperscale community. With hyperscalers now becoming known as the ‘core of the network’, we expect to see service providers reacting to the movement of more processing at the edge by re-engaging their sights on storage at the core. Here, the market will continue to segment between “hot”, or frequently accessed data, and “cold” storage for archived information that is less business-critical. It is likely that there will also be different pricing models applied to each.
The disruption this year has also affected much of the anticipated rollout of 5G communications. In reality, most carriers have been rolling out low-band 5G, operating at about 600MHz, which is similar in performance to 4G, rather than the GHz spectrums offered by higher band 5G. In 2021 we expect to see 5G emerging in more industrial applications in private networks, where large companies can operate at whatever part of the spectrum they like and use the technology to increase performance, productivity and avail of compute intensive applications like AI and Robotic Processing Automation (RPA).
In the public domain, we expect to see a significant increase of 5G deployments as a “last-mile” solution to bring “fibre-quality” 5G connectivity to the home. This has the obvious advantage of making high-speed connectivity available to areas not currently served by fibre in a cost-effective way, and one that is far quicker to deploy.
As we look forward, it is crucial that our sector remains agile and focussed on adapting to ever-changing times. This year has shown the determination and tenacity of data centre professionals and our role in supporting the mission-critical needs of customers who are dependent on digital infrastructure.
HPC & OCP
Faisal Akram, Director of Business Development, Kao Data
Today it is extraordinary how AI, GPU and CPU technologies are influencing data centre designs. In future, I believe that facilities will be judged by their abilities to support HPC-Ready infrastructure for intensive compute.
HPC data centres must offer customisable architectures, abundant power within typically +30kW racks and have the capability to remove the heat generated by the servers via the greater efficiencies offered by liquid cooling – all while supporting the increased floor loading requirements! These bare the hallmarks of OCP-Ready™ data centres, a term that has become synonymous for facilities that accommodate intensive computing in highly efficient, application specific and flexible environments.
Today HPC and AI organisations also require the expertise of operators who truly understand their needs, and who can implement the specific technology topography that they require. I believe those teams who have the right engineering expertise, alongside facilities built to standards of technical excellence, will find great success in 2021. The convergence of OCP-Ready™ and HPC-ready facilities within our sector has only just begun to emerge. Looking forward, long may it continue.