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Factors impacting the data centre industry in 2022

8th February 2022
Kiera Sowery

With a new year upon us, Jack Bedell-Pearce, CEO and Co-Founder of 4D Data Centres explores how those in the industry are reflecting on the past 12 months and lessons that can be learnt from the changes wrought by COVID-19.

The data centre industry continues to adapt to meet the demands of businesses moving towards a long-term work from anywhere model. The pace of digital transformation and the widespread adoption of hybrid-IT are also accelerating at breakneck speed, so what does this mean for the year ahead?

Is the future entirely cloud?

The future is hybrid-IT. It’s going to be a blend of public cloud, private cloud, on premise and colocation. There will be a trend towards cloud advancements which is a given, especially with more sophisticated SaaS products coming online. 

Optimising the running of data and applications has shifted to a workload approach, and therefore determining the best IT resources to help these workloads complete tasks efficiently. It’s not going to be running just the cloud, it will be a blend of different systems – in other words, hybrid-IT.

Keeping people in data centres

One of the biggest data centre stories of 2021 was the Meta outage, which was caused after a command to run its global backbone capacity accidentally disconnected all of Meta’s data centres. 

When releasing more details, Meta said that while the company’s DNS servers ran on a separate network, they were designed to withdraw their Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routes if they couldn’t connect to Meta’s data centres. This made it impossible for the rest of the internet to connect to Meta. 

The issue was gradually resolved when Meta engineers got access to server computers at its data centre in California and reset them. While the issue was resolved, the news was a stark wake up call for enterprise data centre operators and decision-makers. Having skilled people physically on site is crucial to ensure that these types of incidents can be addressed as quickly and effectively as possible.

While remote networking solutions make the running of data centres more seamless, there will always be the need for a person to be on site to deal with urgent matters. You can run a data centre without people, but it’s not advisable no matter how smart the technology is - especially if you have critical systems that cannot be accessed remotely in an outage.

Using digital transformation to meet demand

As in previous years, digital transformation will continue to be important in 2022, especially after the disruption to businesses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Digital transformation has already begun to accelerate, with the data centre industry having to adapt and evolve due to factors such as an increase in a remote workforce and video-based content consumption. With new technologies such as AI and machine learning (ML), platforms such as Amazon Prime and Netflix are already responding by building their own dedicated data centres to suit their requirements for speed to market, scale, growth, economics and logistics. 

But digital transformation is about incremental changes in the right direction - not necessarily an overhaul that creates disruption for customers. Companies want to keep their customers happy, so it’s important their IT infrastructure and digital technologies help them deliver that goal, with a flexible approach to infrastructure that can be scalable for the future. Data centres are increasingly moving towards a model that facilitates this from migration to managing legacy systems, along with hyperscale cloud offerings.

The environment and sustainability

The industry rose to the challenge in 2020 in order to function within lockdown scenarios. There was an increase in network traffic, with data centre operators and telco providers using their expertise to adapt to the worst case scenario in terms of capacity, so they were able to cope when people started working from home. The data centre industry expanded its capacity to meet this demand, whilst also keeping plenty in reserve. 

With Glasgow COP26 still fresh in our minds, there is significant pressure on data centres to continue working towards lowering overall emissions, something that is only enhanced as the energy crisis continues to make headlines. Fortunately, the mere act of moving servers from an office into a colocation data centre (as has been the trend since offices were downscaled during the COVID-19 pandemic) lowers overall emissions as data centres are generally more efficient than in-house server rooms. 

Many data centre operators are also pledging to reach a net-zero emissions target by 2030. This is even more ambitious than the same pledge set by the UK government but with a deadline 20 years later in 2050.

In 2022, we'll see a lot of the next generation data centres being built with green technology and ESG reporting at their core. Where space allows, evaporative cooling will continue to supersede traditional condenser cooling systems, though even these are making leaps and bounds in efficiency. To reduce the losses in power transmissions, we may even see some data centres being designed and built with local power production (in the form of green hydrogen or biofuel). 

Final thoughts 

The importance of data centres was often overlooked pre COVID-19, but the last two years hasunderlined the vital role they play in ensuring companies can function anywhere at any time. That will mean maintaining the availability and quality of online services that users have come to expect, which is going to be key to the industry in 2022 as the majority of the world’s employees continue to work from home. 

After adapting to working entirely remotely almost overnight, businesses faced new challenges and have now had to change their strategies to accommodate a WFA model. The way we work has changed – work from anywhere has fundamentally impacted how businesses set up offices, a workforce and ultimately their infrastructure so it can be accommodated.

Data centres as workplaces are no different, and although advancements in technology require less people to be on site, lessons have been learnt from the Meta outage that has shown the industry it is not ready to be operated entirely remotely and will continue to evolve through hybrid-IT.

The sector is taking forward a view that digital transformation is about incremental changes in the right direction as much as it is about acceleration - and an overhaul that creates disruption for customers isn’t always necessary as long as momentum continues and increasing demand is met, much of which is being driven by IoT growth. 

Data centres now also need to be seen as evolving in line with reaching a net-zero emissions target. That’s why in 2022, the next generation of data centres will have visible measures in place and green technology built at their cores. 

Leaps and bounds are being made in both efficiency and technology and the key takeaways the industry has brought into this year are to continue building on the measures it has implemented throughout the pandemic. Wth the pace of digital transformation and widespread adoption of hybrid-IT accelerating at speed, the data centre industry is ready to do even more, placing itself as a leader in innovation that will span 2022 and beyond.

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