The Stack Archive Expert View

Wearables and the data centre question

Tue 26 Jan 2016

This year, 72 billion wearables have been shipped worldwide. By 2019, this is forecast to reach 156 billion.

The resulting explosion in data volumes will ask serious questions of data centre infrastructure. So what’s the answer?



Google Trends showing increase in searches for “wearables”

The early days

Smartbands were many people’s introduction to wearables.

Measuring things like heartbeat, sleeping patterns, movement. All great, but mainly appealing to the health and fitness community. For the rest of society, it’s taken the introduction of smartwatches to put wearables on the map. And even then, it took Apple’s entry into the market to really kick things off. Before then, smartwatches were still too niche. And for many… simply too ugly.

It’s no coincidence that since Apple Watch, a succession of new smartwatches have attracted praise. For their looks as much as their technology. But for many, smartwatches still don’t offer enough functionality, durability or reliability. However, the fact that wearables are in the public consciousness is enough. The well-documented growth in The Internet of Things will accelerate the idea of sensors sending data. And wearables will be part of this cultural shift.

Google Glass

The expectation around Google Glass has never really come to fruition. At least, not in the consumer market.

Most people were put off by a mixture of high price, privacy concerns, bugs. Plus the general unease of talking to someone wearing a computer on their head. There was probably just too much hype to live up to.

In the enterprise market, it’s a different story. Google’s Glass at Work programme has seen take-up across industries. Boeing technicians use the “smart glasses” for assembly and engineering.  Medical practitioners are using the technology to treat patients remotely.Volkswagen uses Google Glass to guide employees around its factories.


Researchers are developing a way for surgeons to operate, receiving real-time information on the patient, using Google Glass.

There’s an operation to alleviate the muscle stiffness felt by children with cerebral palsy. Because this involves severing two-thirds of a nerve root, the surgeon has to operate while receiving information from a colleague.

Using Google Glass enables the surgeon to operate and constantly receive information. “This design allows a surgeon to analyse crucial data in his line of sight hands-free at real-time, without the need to look away from the working field of view, and communicate across the operating theatre while he’s performing this procedure,” explains Mark Golab, the 22-year-old post-graduate student who devised the idea as part of his studies.


Companies such as Catapult are delivering data for elite sporting clients.

The Brazilian football team, record winner of five World Cups, will use the technology to monitor fitness and movement via GPS. The coach of NBA basketball team the Golden State Warriors uses Catapult for assessing player performance. And in tennis, “Player Analysis Technology” monitors heart rate and player-tracking – in real-time.


Of course, today wearable relates to physical items. How soon before wearables become part of our body?

The Helius system is developed by US company Proteus Health. Millimetre-sized sensors are embedded into pills. Containing magnesium and copper, the sensors start sending data when they come into contact with stomach acid. Doctors can monitor the results remotely, deciding when they need to call in their patients.

The sensors send signals back to the medical professional, who assesses the body’s response. In real-time. Another advantage is that if the sensors aren’t activated, it tells the doctor that the patient needs reminding to take their medicine. In the US, this would help tackle the $100bn–$300bn costs which arise from people forgetting to take their medicine.

The future

Of course, wearables are a long way from becoming as established as mobile devices. Concerns over security and privacy remain. But look how people are becoming increasingly comfortable using apps for mobile banking, or paying for items using their phone. It’s surely only a matter of time.

What’s less sure is how well the resulting volumes of data will be stored, crunched and processed. In a recent #CIOChat (your wearable device presents a big data challenge) one contributor raised the prospect of wearables leading to a “data landfill”.

It’s up to the data centre industry to ensure this doesn’t happen.

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