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The data centre in 2020: views of the industry

Fri 13 Dec 2019

Experts from Cisco, HPE, Digital Realty and more put forward their data centre predictions for 2020

Mid-December is upon us, which means it’s time for – you guessed it – our yearly data centre predictions roundup.

As usual, we’ve handpicked four industry experts, all of whom have kindly consulted their crystal balls to serve up some digestible summaries of what lies ahead for the data centre in 2020.

Without question, the chief takeaway from this year’s roundup is the centrality of sustainability.

True, the environmental impact of IT has been scrutinised for several years now, but whereas once the interrogation was audible, now it is deafening. This is a consequence of the broader elevation of the issue around the globe, reinforced by the Greta Effect and the hellish wildfires that tore through the Amazon in October.

Thankfully, society is alert to the fact that data centres are both energy-hungry server farms and integral to the digitalisation on which we universally rely. Popular consciousness of these facts has led to industry stakeholders having a louder voice in the climate debate. Those stakeholders must use their platforms to effectively communicate the data centre’s long history of energy-efficient innovations and, as such, how it is part of the solution. Equally, it is right that more pressure is put on organisations to minimise IT’s resource demand and waste.

Read the predictions in their entirety below.

Catherine Doherty, data centre and multi-cloud lead, Cisco UK and Ireland

“Automation will become the main mechanism for driving operational agility”

Hybrid IT is the new way of doing things. Organisations that originally took a ‘Cloud First’ or ‘Cloud Only’ view of the future have largely struggled to realise the potential of that strategy. Applications and their associated data are now distributed across so many locations – data centres, hyperscalers, and increasingly the edge.

Organisations have a vast array of choices when it comes to deploying and hosting applications. The challenge is the complexity this generates, as well as a larger attack surface from a security standpoint. Organisations continue to push for simplification whilst still looking to keep their options open. So how does an organisation understand the best location to deploy and host an application and its data?

Alongside customer experience, factors ranging from cost to compliance all have to be balanced out. Once a decision has been taken based on the evidence, IT needs to be able move at a speed that can best support the wider organisation. The future will require clear view of all an organisation’s applications, network infrastructure, workloads, and security policies.  With so much data, machine learning will be important to help IT teams make sense of it all.

Once staff can get a clear top-down view of operations, the next step is moving towards effective automation of the entire IT operations lifecycle. Automation will become the main mechanism for driving operational agility. Through moving to this advanced form of management, organisations can shift their security model to protect workloads across their entire data provision rather than working with the traditional perimeter model.

Cisco’s data centre vision is based around the concept of a Central Nervous System for IT. This can deliver deep visibility and insights, the ability to automate actions, reduce time-consuming tasks, and enable innovation, without compromising on cybersecurity proficiency.

Stijn Grove, managing director, Dutch Data Center Association

“We need to further increase the efficiency of our facilities, work together with grid providers to increase capacity, and help government to get legislation up to date”

The digital revolution is travelling at ‘full-steam’ ahead. Our economy and society has, in only a short time, become a digital economy and digital society. Most business models are in a state of disruption due to the rise of the internet. We rely on ‘smart’ solutions as the new norm to bring efficiency in processes and to become more sustainable. All of this is, in the end, originating from data centres. Data centres have quickly become the reliable foundation of our economy and society — something we in the data centre industry should be very proud of.

In the future, we see many positives and challenges ahead for our industry. The sheer size of digitisation, and the growth of data in general, simply demands more data centres. How to facilitate this massive growth is a major challenge.

To move forward, we need to find and educate more people to be able to achieve this growth. We need to further increase the efficiency of our facilities, work together with grid providers to increase capacity, and help government to get legislation up to date. And probably most importantly, make the public more aware of our role and how our industry works to increase their understanding and perceptions.

The only way we can do this is to work together united. We are very happy with the support of the industry in our country which allows us as an industry association to work on these issues. And with many of the challenges the same in every country, we should work together more internationally.

This is the only way to grow in a sustainable way.

Phil Starrett, chief technologist, Hewlett Packard Enterprise UK&I

“We need more sustainable data centres”

As enterprises accelerate digital transformation, escalating demands for real-time insights are causing data centres to experience power, space, cooling and resource constraints. The need for sustainable IT is growing as we tackle complex and data-heavy challenges against a backdrop of increasing energy costs and resource limitations, an urgent climate crisis and tightening regulations.

IT organisations that are fast to transform will exceed their financial, sustainability and business objectives to seize a competitive advantage. As more organisations undertake digital transformations, more opportunities arise to critically review the inefficiencies of ageing on-premises IT estates and consider how to structure their modernisation with sustainability in mind.

For instance, IT organisations will continue to transition to consumption-based IT models that eliminate wasteful overprovisioning and underutilisation of assets while refreshing ageing and power-hungry assets without the capital expenditure. By minimising IT’s resource demand and waste, the data centre industry will cut costs and reduce its environmental impact — both of which are priorities for our customers.

Digital transformation has increased the number and diversity of workloads leading to traditional techniques of management not delivering the desired efficiencies and reliability. Modern data centres generate trillions of data points that have to be correlated and understood in order to make the systems operate effectively. It is not possible for manual operations to scale to meet this ever increasing demand. As infrastructure becomes increasingly critical to an organisation’s bottom line, constantly ensuring the optimal performance for every application is paramount.

As a result we are seeing Artificial Intelligence (AI) being brought into the data centre to predict and prevent problems before they occur while ensuring optimal performance and efficient resource use. AI uses predictive modeling to understand all the operating, environmental and telemetry parameters and has the potential to do this at scale across a holistic customer installed base. Once introduced these AIs can identify causation from historical events to predict the most complex and damaging problems before they become problems. This increasingly will lead to the autonomous operation of data centres without the need for human intervention.

Chris Sharp, CTO, Digital Realty

“Physical and cyber will converge to safeguard data centres”

Physical security has long been a mainstay in data centre security strategies. Enterprises are now investing heavily in cyber security measures to ensure their systems do not incur additional risks. In 2020 and beyond, data centres will begin to see physical and cyber security converge as advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning are deployed to pinpoint abnormalities in both physical and cyber security and bolster remediation processes. As these technologies continue to mature, they will shift the security paradigm from one of “detect and respond” to “prevent and counter.

Edge computing is already one of the biggest trends happening in networking and IT infrastructure spaces. In 2020, we’ll see advances in SDN, 5G and other networking technologies continue to reshape edge computing’s role for the enterprise – and for end users. We’ll start to see more businesses remove their components, data and services from a centralised core and place them closer to the edge so assets can be positioned where they’re needed most. Businesses will create centres of data exchange that reside between the core and the edge to enable reduced latency, improved network resiliency and increased efficiency. We predict the edge will become a significant catalyst for one of the biggest technology shifts of the decade, enabling AI, robotics, self-driving cars and other emerging technologies to reshape businesses.

With the recent California and Amazon rainforest wildfires and the surge in climate change activism, individuals and enterprises are understanding that sustainability is more than just a “nice to have;” rather, they’re both financially and socially necessary.

A recent survey found that 70 percent of respondents were more likely to choose working at a company with a strong environmental agenda. Coupled with that, millennials and Gen Zers, two overwhelmingly purpose-driven generations who care about what their employers stand for, make up the largest portion of the workforce today.

In 2020, sustainability-driven companies will place high importance on supply chain sustainability – selecting responsible vendors – and motivating current partners to report and improve upon sustainable business practices. To meet both market and employee demand, 2020 will bring an increase in businesses that invest in sustainable business practices. And data centres, in particular, will be in the forefront as customers ask providers to rely more heavily on renewable energy sources to fuel their operations.

Mark Fenton, product manager, Future Facilities

“Expect density to be a major driver for businesses to look into solutions that enable them to rethink cooling and power consumption”

AI, IoT and machine learning are set to change the world in so many ways. For the data centre industry, these new technologies are going to lead to rapidly increasing server densities. Already 451 Research has found that forty-five of companies expect average rack densities to increase to 11kW per rack. This is density is going to put enormous pressure on operations teams who will look to squeeze more out of existing floor space. Expect density to be a major driver for businesses to look into solutions that enable them to rethink cooling and power consumption in 2020. With tools like digital twins leading the way.

The advantages of liquid cooling have been known for a while. However, due to the high initial outlay and unwillingness to embrace new approaches it has failed to gain serious traction. However, with hyper scalers like Google, Alibaba and possibly Microsoft seriously looking and testing liquid cooling it seems that 2020 is its time to rise. Equally driving the take up of liquid cooling will be the growth of edge data centres. Offering better thermal management than air cooling, liquid cooling is set to help boost rack and server density. The challenge now will be bringing the costs down to a manageable level. But be in no doubt that 2020 will be a watershed moment for liquid cooling.

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2020 AI sustainability
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