Future Trends in Data Centre Development

As CSP’s experience disruption to traffic patterns as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic, what are the key challenges facing their data centres?

During recent Huawei Better World Summit 2020 Power Digitalization 2025, Developing Telecoms caught up with a presentation by Lilia Severina of the Uptime Institute which examined in detail some of the key issues for data centre operators.

The Uptime Institute is a global authority in data centre quality, known for its Tier standard, management operations standard and ATD training. Active in over 100 countries, the institute has trained over 1,000 students across the world while conducting data centre and edge-related market research.

The institute has prepared a number of reports focusing on the pandemic over the past few months, identifying key trends across 2020 and into 2021. Primarily, the short and medium term impact will centre around risk planning while the longer term focus will be on preparing for future pandemics. In terms of industry, this translates to a greater focus on automation and remote management, as well as calibration tools. Notably, many governments are also investing in more resilient and more available infrastructure.

Measures taken against the pandemic, including lockdowns, have resulted in many data centre sites lacking on-site staff, which meant that operations were higher risk during the first half of 2020, with outages resulting in some instances. Many data centres saw their revenues impacted as they were unable to demonstrate their space and power to their clients.

Remotely managing the power and operations of a data centre has proven challenging, with disruptions to supply chains and many instances of maintenance having to be deferred. However, this shows us areas to focus on: improving supply chains; increasing backup levels; and maintaining and managing sites during crises.

This renewed focus on improvement is not the only positive to be derived from the pandemic – other developments include measures to boost broadband speeds in order to speed up adoption of 5G, as this has proven particularly useful for telehealth, including remote procedures and consultations. Additionally, automation is playing an increasing role in social business interactions, as well as education and training.

Across the end of 2019 and the start of 2020, Uptime Institute identified ten major trends that would occur in 2020.

  1. The first of these is outages, with 34% of our respondents noting that they had experienced outages during the year - a relatively high figure. Of course, reducing outages is the top priority for any data centre, with legislation coming into force across many markets to monitor data centre quality. For example, in Turkey and Nigeria, the governments actually use Uptime Institute Tier Standard as a national standard for critical facilities in their countries. While the primary cause of outages is power failure, there are increasing examples of network failure and software failure.
  2. The next wave of internet build-out is underway – but with much more at the edge. Bandwidth, costs and (to a lesser degree) latency are among the reasons why more edge capacity is needed. Big regional data centres can meet many needs, supported by thousands of micro data centres and billions of devices. There has been a lot of growth in edge data centre set-ups, with new companies emerging and venture capitalists investing into new edge-focused businesses. These centres can be built in rural regions of countries, which has been an area of growth. In some cases, companies that already own data centres have opted to focus only on hyperscale or edge-specific architecture, and a lot of data centres have chosen to use cloud only infrastructure.
  3. Energy usage – and therefore bills – continues to rise as density increases and data centres utilize more space per square metre, with new services such as 5G, video and blockchain among the drivers. This may strain the grid in most countries.
  4. A wave of new investors is joining the very active market for data centres and, with continuing capital inflows into the data centre industry, mergers and acquisitions are ongoing. Enterprise operators may find strong interest in their data centres from buyers, especially in cities/near the “edge” and, while new players may have longer investment timelines and lower ROI thresholds, investors are prepared to accept this.
  5. Automation was on the rise within the data centre industry before the pandemic, but Covid-19 has increased the pressure to automate DC management further and from remote locations. Cloud, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are being introduced as part of automation of data centres. DCIM and cloud-driven digital technology are providing the data that makes automation possible. Operators apply more automation in areas such as cooling optimization, hunting underused servers and smart power, and software use is expected to spread throughout the data centre.
  6. Cost reductions in fuel cells and lithium batteries have resulted in an increase in data centres without generators, with designers and operators stepping up their search for alternative power sources. China already has a number of generator-free data centres and trials are underway in Europe, although progress is likely to be slow.
  7. Pay-as-you-go ‘as-a-service’ models are becoming more popular in many countries, as data centre owners are looking to decrease their investment and turn their capex into opex. This even applies to facilities: operators want to pass on the risk of early obsolescence, under-utilization, noncompliance or changing needs, with management tools, critical power and micro data centres offered as a service.
  8. A wave of demand is building for micro data centres, but this will not be fully realised in 2021 and beyond. The technology was expected to experience significant growth this year, but the pandemic has of course impacted this. However, the impact of 5G and edge data centre growth will likely spur the market. Many vendors have entered the market with innovative designs, optimized for particular needs, and telcos will be the biggest buyers, for IoT and 5G networks. Micro Data Centres have been adopted in many countries by pharmacies, hospitals and schools as part of investment given by governments towards risk management in case of future pandemics. Some 42% of data centre owners have stated that they will use micro data centres as part of their infrastructure.
  9. The continued shortage of staffing across the industry is another trend, with universities and colleges failing to offer courses in data centre design and management as part of their curriculum. This will have many consequences, pushing up costs and in some cases increasing risks. Owners, trainers and others will gradually adapt to meet the increased demand, but it will take years. Uptime Institute issued an invitation to join their accredited designing and operation specialist training, which is now available remotely.
  10. The final trend is climate change, which was a major talking point in 2019 and at the beginning of this year. The pandemic has actually helped to reduce the global carbon footprint, but it is still expected that the trend towards environmentally friendly technologies will remain current and the regularisation in this space will continue.

Legislators, at both national and city levels, want to make data centres more environmentally clean, with tactics including setting maximum PUE levels, banning fossil-fuel standby power, and encouraging heat reuse. The climate crisis will lead to greater controls by next generation of leaders.

The Uptime Institute has partnered with Huawei on a number of projects this year relating to data centre management operations, risk assessment, tier standards and training. Huawei partners and clients are able to use Uptime Institute services to reduce the risk of outages related to human error operations as well as design.

Uptime Institute’s Tier standards for data centres are well known across the industry, with the most commonly used being Tier III. This tier is for concurrently maintainable data centres, which run 24/7. Uptime Institute also offers a Tier IV, which is a standard for data centres that are critical and have to be running even if there is a fault. Airports, airlines, the banking sector, stock exchanges, as well as government ministries often choose Tier IV standard for their critical data centre services. Tier II is sometimes used by cloud companies, but even within cloud environments, data centre owners increasingly choose Tier III standard.

Uptime Institute’s Tier Ready pre-fabricated modular data centre certification program is designed to help data centre owners to increase DC availability and certify their facilities at a reduced cost. This is in place for a number of Huawei PFM models, so essentially customers buying Tier Ready equipment from Huawei, can obtain high quality equipment and also assure installation via Facility Certification.