30 Sep 2020
With a world growing ever-hungrier for data and new applications evolving constantly, data centres are on the lookout for ways to move faster. Here are four trends to watch.
Shares in big data centre companies such as Equinix and Digital Realty have boomed so far this year, with investors attracted by a surge in the use of cloud services, streaming platforms and other digital services as the Covid-19 pandemic kept millions of people at home.
And if data centres are good business now, then they will only grow more appealing as the world adapts to a new way of working and the fifth generation of mobile communications technology (5G) begins to transform our cities, workplaces and homes.
Of course, data centres have to be able to support this increased activity. Here are four ways in which data centres will change to meet the challenges of the future.
Close to the Edge
The 5G revolution has begun and it has two significant consequences for data centres. First, the amount of data being transferred and the speed at which it is sent will increase enormously. In addition to people using devices with 5G connections, the Internet of Things means that everything from cars and street furniture to medical implants and packages could be transmitting data across the network.
Second, the need for low or zero latency will require more smaller data centres at the edge of the network. These might be no more than a small box by the side of the road, relaying data to self-driving vehicles, but they will increase the complexity of data traffic management. By 2025, 75 percent of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed at the edge of the network, compared with 10 percent in 2018.
Pushing to 400G
The next generation of data transfer speeds for the data centre is 400G - or 400 gigabits per second travelling through a single ethernet link. It’s a four-times increase on the previous standard of 100G. The 400G standard is not only faster, it’s cheaper, more efficient to manage and a single 400G port consumes less power than four 100G ports.
Of course, while data centres make the adjustment to 400G, specifications for 800G are already being agreed. The move to 800G is likely to begin in three-to-five years time, which will be necessary as data consumption continues to increase.
The self-healing data centre
Bigger and busier data centres mean more work for the staff who have to keep them running - and that gets more difficult as data centres grow more complex. Fortunately, automation can take some of the load. So-called ‘self-healing’ data centres use AI to learn the normal behaviour of the data centre environment and either fix problems before they arise or escalate the issue to somebody who can deal with it. A third of sector leaders say their data centres will be self-healing by 2025.
Keeping everything cool
All those servers need to be kept cool. Conventional air conditioning accounts for as much of two-fifths of a data centre’s energy consumption, which is costly and not good for the environment. The processors in modern data centres are generating more heat than ever, so many data centres are looking for alternatives. All manner of liquid cooling options are being explored, from various forms of refrigeration to entirely immersing the electronics in non-conducting coolant.
Finally, as with many aspects of data centre management AI can manage cooling better. For example, in 2018 Google put its DeepMind AI in charge of data centre cooling and saw a 40 percent reduction in the amount of energy used for cooling.
Tomorrow’s data centres will be ready to support an increasingly demanding world. One thing is certain: our need to communicate, collaborate and consume information shows no sign of slowing down. We will need ever-advancing technology to keep up.