While the wheels on Ted Cruz’s suitcase functioned normally throughout the Texas power outage, that wasn’t the case at every data centre in the state.
An outage at the City of Austin’s data centre knocked out all municipal government websites and the local 311 hotline for non-emergency services. Outages also hit data centres for Greyhound bus lines, Dane County Credit Union and healthcare services provider Availity.
Although those incidents weren’t the most serious consequences of the storm, they’re harsh reminders that data centres have become critical infrastructure. They also force us to revisit a key question: If something goes wrong with a data centre, where does accountability lie?
With the pandemic prompting more businesses to move data to the cloud, that question is more urgent than ever. That’s why accountability tops Uptime Institute’s list of five data centre trends for 2021. Here’s a breakdown of all five trends for this year:
According to Uptime Institute, COVID-19 is fuelling a hybrid mix of on- and off-prem IT, with most enterprises “spreading their workloads across their own data centres, co-location sites and public cloud.”
In Uptime’s words, this “creates a problem: cloud service operators, SaaS providers and even some colos are rarely fully accountable or transparent about their shortcomings — and they certainly do not expect to be held financially accountable for consequences or failures.” (Translation: some of this could lead to finger-pointing confrontations in the street like that Spiderman meme.)
In 2021, however, Uptime believes “issues of transparency, reporting and governance are likely to ripple through the cloud, SaaS and hosting industries, as customers seek assurances of excellence in operations.” Uptime predicts:
- enterprises will more carefully assess which of their critical workloads can be “safely” moved to the cloud
- more regulators will start requiring these “criticality” assessments, especially in sectors like finance
- more enterprises will demand full visibility into the operational practices and technical infrastructure of their third-party providers
2. Remote control
To cope with pandemic-induced staffing shortages and physical distancing rules, more data centre managers are deploying technologies to manage their facilities remotely. According to Uptime’s latest global survey of data centre managers, that will continue in 2021:
- 90% plan to increase their use of remote monitoring and management due to the pandemic
- 73% plan to increase their use of automation as a result of the pandemic
The Institute predicts data centre managers will also invest more in DCIM (data centre infrastructure management) software and cloud-based DMaaS (data centre management as a service). In the coming years, it forecasts higher adoption of tools for remote management and enablement such as:
- VR (for training and crisis simulation)
- AR (for non-skilled staff working on-site)
- AI-enabled video surveillance
- acoustic technology (to monitor the status of equipment like generators and transformers)
- robotics (with vision and gripping capabilities)
3. Edge build-out
Uptime Institute says workloads requiring low latency (like real-time virtual healthcare, for example) will increase demand for edge computing. (You can find Uptime’s flowchart of how each major tier of the edge is interconnected here.)
The Institute warns, however, that building out the edge will happen slowly and unevenly, much like early build-out of the Internet. Within the next few years, Uptime expects:
- more micro data centres to be deployed at the so-called ‘local edge’ (in urban 5G markets and in IoT environments like factories and retail stores)
- more leased data centres to be built in cities and suburbs in 2021
- AI-driven and software-defined technologies to become more important as the edge becomes more built out and complex
U.S. President Joe Biden wasted no time bringing green issues back to the White House, reinstating U.S. participation in the Paris climate accord on his first day in the Oval Office.
It’s not yet clear how Biden’s greener agenda will affect the data centre industry. But Uptime Institute says it’s just one factor motivating the sector to tackle environmental sustainability this year. Others include:
- Extreme weather: catastrophes like the Texas deep freeze are convincing more data centre operators they must emit less pollution to curtail the climate change that jeopardizes their facilities via floods, fires, storms and heat waves
- Legislation: Uptime researchers note almost 2,000 pieces of environmental legislation have been passed worldwide; with Biden in the Oval Office, that may increase this year
- Litigation: Uptime says climate activists have started filing lawsuits against tech firms and IT providers to nudge them towards greener practices
- Big tech pressure: since tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon have committed to specific environmental targets, they could put pressure on their suppliers and partners to cut emissions in order to help meet their own benchmarks
“The year 2021 may be one of those standouts in which a number of emerging technologies begin to gain traction,” the Institute writes in its trends forecast. Here are four it singles out:
- Storage-class memory: greater storage capacity; retains data even if power to the device is lost; allows faster server restarts after reboots and crashes
- Silicon photonics: reduces size, latency, cost and power consumption of networking switches by up to 40 per cent
- ARM servers: cheaper, better performing and more energy efficient than servers built with Intel x86 processors; already used in AWS cloud servers
- Software-defined power: also called ‘smart energy’; broadly refers to various technologies and systems (i.e., lithium-ion batteries, smart power switches, smart software) used to “intelligently manage and allocate power and energy in the data centre,” per Uptime experts
For data centres, 2020 was about making sweeping changes due to COVID-19. The shifts they make in 2021 could make the sector greener, leaner, more efficient and more resilient beyond the pandemic.