If you’re interested in where the data centre may be headed you should do one thing—look up, writes Chris Adams, president and CEO of Park Place
Stargazing may soon become challenging. That’s the warning from some astronomers, who claim that solar panel reflections from hundreds of SpaceX Starlink satellites, intended to supply global internet, could fundamentally change the view of the night sky. This is just one connection between what’s happening overhead and life here on earth. From black hole imagery to orbiting supercomputers, space-focused technology has a lot to say about the data centre.
Computing at the speed of flight
The first-ever picture of a black hole was unveiled back in April. The images allowed us to see 55 million light years into the Messier 87 galaxy, and it rightly stunned the world. Among technologists, there were those who admired the technical feat of leveraging eight terrestrial observation stations to achieve the requisite resolution. Others were captivated by the more relatable photograph of computer scientist Katherine Bouman posing with dozens of hard drives, drives which held the data that made the iconic image possible.
The geographically disparate observatories sent their data to the central compilation centre in an unexpected way—via FedEx. It’s a fact that flies in the face of IT pros’ favoured mental imagery of Tron-like beams of light-speed transmission across mobile spectrum and fibre optic cable.
The researchers’ reasons for using FedEx, however, were practical. Over standard internet, sending five petabytes of data—approximately 5,000 years’ worth of MP3 play time—would take years. Shipping disks took mere hours, achieving speeds of about 14 gigabytes per second.
Interestingly, this challenge faced by researchers using the Event Horizon Telescope has much in common with the challenges data centres are battling. Data creation on earth will soon grow to 175 zetabytes of mostly device-generated, frequently real-time information. The sheer volume threatens to overwhelm even next generation networks. Like Bouman, we’ll need to find alternatives.
Rather than resorting to air cargo, IT organisations will identify ways to avoid transmitting large quantities of raw data by moving compute and storage toward data sources. This is a primary driver of edge computing.
In the forthcoming, widely-distributed ecosystem, compute and storage loci will proliferate. IoT devices will get smarter to provide initial data processing. On-premises data centres will gain new importance when located alongside heavy data-generating operations, and micro-data centres will be established where these legacy resources don’t exist. Vendors will offer 5G-based edge computing packages, with data centre pods based at cell towers and telecom offices, and more local and regional cloud and colocation options will be developed.