As 2020 draws to a close, Data Centres have made their presence felt, ensuring viable Business Continuity Plan (BCPs) amid pandemic restrictions. In 2021, the trends in DCs will be towards automation driving greater efficiency and green centres emerging from sustainability concerns.
Every dark cloud comes with a silver lining. In the case of COVID-19, it’s represented via an accelerated digital drive within months, which would otherwise have taken years. Even in the post-COVID era, technology adoption will keep rising, thanks to the digital transformation underway worldwide.
Another significant outcome of the pandemic is the dramatic shift towards remote working and work-from-home (WFH) regimes. As companies scrambled to sustain BCPs, remote working was the saviour. Simultaneously, another segment that has been playing a pivotal behind-the-scenes role in supporting BCPs and WFH – data centres (DCs).
Critical yet Unacknowledged
Throughout the year, DCs provide 24×7 mission-critical services. Due to this the staff managing the critical facilities needed to operate from DC facilities in shifts. Nevertheless, lockdown restrictions presented unique challenges for these staff in reaching site locations. Also, lockdown proved challenging in for DC’s play in maintaining essential services.
Such paradoxical problems are prompting DC operators to review the need for on-site staff by driving more digitized remote operations. Companies relying on support staff for DCs realised they had little or no visibility over their operations as the staff needed to monitor them on-site. Consequently, cloud migration projects earlier considered low priority are now a high priority.
Pandemic-related disruptions have nudged companies into outsourcing DC functions to colocation players or cloud providers as their business models guarantee an uptime of critical applications both during normal times and in a crisis.
Already, DCs are deploying a new generation of DCIM (Data Centre Infrastructure Management). This cloud-based DCIM is using artificial intelligence in providing predictive analytics and performance benchmarking, among others. AI-enabled DCIM offers the facility remote management from varied devices, including mobiles, tablets and home PCs.
Meanwhile, in 2021 and beyond, multiple trends will be driving DCs in India and globally. Two trends need some elaboration. The first concerns unmanned DCs. The pandemic has revealed there will be times when server replacements may need to be done without the presence of qualified on-site staff.
Initially, this may seem unlikely. But as the Internet and AI era have shown, much of what was once in the realm of fantasy is now a reality. Of course, the term ‘unmanned’ DC must be qualified as security staff may need to remain on-site. However, it is possible that in future such security guards may be required to take up training in picking up basic mechanical capabilities to handle simple issues.
Automation and Sustainability
An additional stratagem involves deploying robots in automating DC operations. Some entities have already given demos of a robotic system for replacing servers housed in DCs’ IT racks. Robots are excellent in doing precise but repetitive tasks speedily. For instance, consider servers stacked in a specific area in a DC that need to be moved to another spot. Once the best trajectory is programmed in the robot, it can do this endlessly – without any errors or collisions.
Yet, if the task has even a minor alteration, such as changing the positions of the network or power connection or enhancing the server size, the robot will fail to complete it as required. Nonetheless, it is a question of time before robots become more adaptive and capable of managing minor variations.
The other major trend deals with energy efficiency. The issue has gained prominence since the slew of lockdowns and allied restrictions have led to a noticeable reduction in air pollution levels across the globe. Of course, this is only a short-term reduction. Once the pandemic restrictions are suspended, pollution levels will return to their pre-pandemic state.
The imperative for ever-rising energy needs keeps stoking greater pollution. Here, the DC sector can set an example by minimising its carbon trail. Over the years, the DC industry has achieved noteworthy success in promoting sustainability in its centralised and regional environments. Barely a decade or so ago, most DCs had highly-inefficient PUEs (power usage effectiveness) of around 1.8. Through innovations in design, cooling, management and uninterruptible power supplies, DCs have witnessed an 80% drop in energy loss. Today, DCs typically have a PUE of 1.37.
Other innovations such as DC grid interaction and liquid cooling are also driving sustainability. The focus presently is on edge data centres’ sustainability. As an exponential jump in IoT-connected devices and the universal drive towards digital keeps generating massive mounds of data, these must be processed faster and closer to their point of generation or consumption.
As a result, there is a shift towards local edge data centres or IT infrastructure and facilities that are geographically distributed for enabling network endpoints. The three primary application areas for local edge data centres comprise commercial (finance, retail, healthcare, etc.), industrial (mining, oil & gas, manufacturing, automotive) and telco (cell towers, building tops, base stations, central offices).
Considering the power needs of edge data centres, the focus will remain on sustainable, energy-efficient DCs. In which case, data insights, predictive analytics and benchmarking will be some key differentiators in driving greater efficiency and lower costs. Remote monitoring and management via AI will then become critical in managing edge sites efficiently and effectively.
In 2021 and thereafter, as the data centre industry continues pushing the limits of innovation, there will be greater efficiency of centralised and regional DCs, including those at the edge of the networks.