As the world moved online in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the criticality of data centres and the reliance on them across all walks of life became an enduring storyline of the crisis. This will manifest in new ways in 2021 as the data centre and the information ecosystem orbiting it emerge from the pandemic with a fourth utility criticality, complete with all the expectations and responsibilities that implies. This is among the emerging 2021 data centre trends identified by Vertiv, a global provider of critical digital infrastructure and continuity solutions.
Data centres have long been held to high availability standards, but the shift toward utility-like status will be noticeable in two ways. First, those high expectations for network availability will extend deep into rural and remote areas, bringing critical applications to more of the population. This will increase pressure on data centres to maintain connectivity even at the outer edges of their networks. Second, any distinction between availability and connectivity will be erased, as the ability to ensure and protect connections across increasingly distributed hybrid networks becomes as much of a requirement as any traditional measure of data centre uptime.
“Data centres have been moving toward public utility-type status for some time, but the pandemic has crystalised the need to establish the kinds of official guardrails that have been commonplace across other utilities,” said Gary Niederpruem, chief strategy and development officer for Vertiv. “This isn’t just about working from home, although that is part of it. More importantly, it is about supporting the digital economy in its most mission-critical forms, which include increased reliance on telemedicine and health, enhanced e-commerce, and global telecommunications and mass media.”
The pandemic established a new baseline for digital infrastructure
Vertiv’s experts identified several other emerging trends to watch in 2021:
1. Digitalisation on Fast Forward: Covid-19 will have a lasting effect on the workforce and the IT ecosystem supporting the new work-from-home model. Vertiv experts expect the pandemic-motivated investment in IT infrastructure to continue and expand, enabling more secure, reliable, and efficient remote work capabilities. Remote visibility and management will become paramount to the success of these work-from-home models. Any cautious steps taken early in the crisis will be accelerated as the pandemic pushes into 2021 and organisations accept these changes as a permanent adjustment to the way we work and do business. That places a premium on connectivity, remote monitoring, data analytics, and even artificial intelligence to make decisions.
2. Bringing Large Data Centre Capabilities to Small Spaces and the Edge: Today’s edge is more critical and more complex, functionally an extension of the data centre rather than the glorified IT closet of the past. Cost and complexity have prevented implementation of data centre best practices in these spaces, but that is changing. Vertiv’s experts anticipate a continued focus on bringing hyperscale and enterprise-level capabilities to these edge sites. This includes greater intelligence and control, an increased emphasis on availability and thermal management, and more attention to energy efficiency across systems.
“Wherever there is a high density of data processing, there will be a demand for edge computing. That demand, and scale, will necessitate more resilient and intelligent edge infrastructure,” said Giordano Albertazzi, president of Vertiv in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). “We are seeing an expansion of the edge in many countries and that will eventually extend to emerging markets. Edge deployments are also closely aligned to other key trends such as 5G and environmental sustainability, and the integration of edge sites with energy grids can support the transition towards renewables.”
3. The 5G Conversation Turns to Energy Consumption and Efficiency: In this early stage of 5G planning and launches, the discussion has focused on the ultimate benefits of the technology – increased bandwidth and reduced latency – and the applications it will enable. But, as many countries begin their 5G rollouts in 2021, the focus will shift to the significant energy consumption increases brought on by 5G and strategies to deploy more efficiently and effectively. The network densification necessary to fully realise the promise of 5G unavoidably adds to the increased energy demands – estimated to be 3.5x more than 4G. The coming year will see greater focus on managing that significant increase in energy consumption by exploring more efficient products and practices.
4. Sustainability Comes to the Forefront: 5G is one piece of a broader sustainability story. As the proliferation of data centres continues and accelerates, cloud and colocation providers are facing increased scrutiny for their energy and water usage. The amplification of the climate change conversation and shifting political winds in the US and globally will only add to the focus on the data centre industry, which accounts for approximately 1% of global energy consumption. The coming year will see a wave of innovation focused on energy efficiency across the data centre ecosystem. The benefits for data centre operators are clear, starting with cost reduction, compliance with existing and anticipated regulations, and the goodwill that comes with establishing a leadership position in the global sustainability movement. Look for important innovations across the data centre infrastructure space and especially in the area of thermal management.