Four data center trends as demand for data continues to skyrocket

The large domestic consumption, young demographics, and accelerating level of industrialisation amongst the Southeast Asia countries make the APAC region appealing to data centre operators.

Our appetite for data and greater connectivity is increasing exponentially, not only with the current environment the world finds itself in but also by advances in 5G, and greater use of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. Computationally-intensive applications such as video on demand, autonomous vehicles and advanced 5G technology continue are growing in popularity.

In Asia Pacific, the transition to industrial digitalisation combined with large domestic data consumption among Southeast Asia countries sees a growing trajectory for the data center market in the region. Southeast Asia’s internet penetration rate alone has grown to 65% from 25% only five years ago[i].

With this in mind, ABB sees four key trends driving the data center segment in today’s data hungry world.

Keeping data secure is now more important than ever

We are now totally reliant on data centers, so when cyber-attacks happen, the impact can be significant. A decade ago, data centers focused exclusively on securing their physical perimeter and the data they stored and managed.

Today, the data center cyber security landscape is diverse. In 2020 alone, the impact of COVID-19 has been blamed for a 238% rise in attacks on banks, and a 600% increase in phishing attempts since the end of February 2020. And with the rise of working from home, more than half a million people globally were affected by breaches between February and May 2020, in which the personal data of video conferencing users was stolen and sold on the dark web.

To operate dependably and efficiently, data centers require their electric infrastructure, as well as building automation and industrial control systems that manage this infrastructure, to deliver an uninterrupted power supply. However, while the integration of operational technology with information technology leads to greater reliability, control and enhanced performance, in some cases – if not managed properly – it can expose the data center to cyber threats. 

The upswing in intense and diverse cyber threats, require networks, servers, data and perimeters to be secure. At ABBwe recognise that “security” means much more than protection against cybercrime: certainly, connections need to be safe, but the value of that data should also be protected. Customers should not be required to forfeit safety, value, or control to realise the benefits of digitisation. Therefore, we design our products, systems, and solutions with a multi-layered approach to cybersecurity, from the smallest component to multi-million-point industrial automation systems. 

Sustainable progress will be crucial to meet carbon reduction targets

When ABB entered the data center sector over 25 years ago, major factors driving the market were uptime and reliability. Shortly after, concerns about energy demand soon emerged. From 2007 onwards, there were claims that the industry was becoming an insatiable energy eater, but fortunately, solutions continue to be developed to help data centers manage their energy consumption more effectively. 

Adopting a life-cycle carbon footprint approach means that already, we are moving away from a purely return-on-investment mindset to a culture of incremental efficiency and a Six-Sigma type commitment to driving down waste.

Key to this is looking at fairly simple techniques, such as running data centers at higher temperatures, using virtualisation to cut down on the number of underutilised servers, improving the efficiency of modern UPS, and the use of frequency drives vs dampers to control fan loads.

Other factors that have contributed to keeping data center power demand in check include servers, storage devices and infrastructures becoming steadily more efficient. The industry has also benefited from the trend toward larger and more efficient cloud and hyperscale center, which consume proportionally much less energy for cooling compared to smaller data center and represent a steadily growing proportion of all data traffic. 

At ABB, we are committed to helping data center operators make every watt count by providing products and solutions that deliver tangible results such as extensions, upgrades and retrofits to enhance existing apparatus with the latest technologies to increase performance, productivity and operating efficiency. ABB also provides the latest in digital technology, allowing the customer more insights into the health of existing assets. 

5G will drive demand for data

As we replace traditional wire set-ups with 5G mobile networks, there are several industries where we expect to see the most growth, including transport, content delivery networks, telecommunications and healthcare, and particularly in smart buildings, where 5G is enabling occupants to improve their health and quality of life.

We will also see 5G used in connected-car technology to minimise traffic jams and reduce emissions whilst improving safety, and in industrial manufacturing and factory environments, where it will facilitate safety and efficiency improvements with faster access to data. This will enable better decision-making, improved efficiency and greater reliability through the production cycle.

Therefore, as the strain on the network increases, data centers will need to respond.

For example, 5G will impact on how data centers are designed. We’re heading away from a ‘data center fortress’ approach to a more propagated approach, a ‘fleet’ rather than an ‘ocean liner’. The ‘fleet’ will still need to be operated and steered as one, which requires a great deal of autonomy and automation. It will also be vital that every member of the data center ‘fleet’ can ‘talk’ to each other, instead of having to go back to central command each time. This makes peer-to-peer connection key as well as the ability to isolate faults between them.

Today’s data centers are often over-provisioned, so it’s likely we’ll see a ‘lightening up’ of the infrastructure and also a smarter use of power. We may even see data centers going back to a system where remote sites are used for archival storage as they no longer require the most high-performance compute, whereas sites that require an immediate reaction, such as weather forecasting or traffic systems, will need a higher performance facility.

The need for speed will be crucial

With the data center construction market predicted to grow by US$31.7bn during 2020-2024 – and given current and projected data demand levels – it is likely that we will see increasing demand for more agile operations tailored to specific needs and the evolution of system design.  

In a market once dominated by purpose-built on-premise enterprise data centers, we have seen a marked shift to off-premise colocation and cloud data centers, largely driven by the financial benefits of renting versus owning and higher levels of reliability. With a global spend of US$38bn on colocation services predicted by 2023 and multi-tenant data centers experiencing 5% growth, this is a trend that is set to continue.

In response to increasing demand for speed, we will still see a growth in pre-engineered solutions. These packaged solutions ensure safe, secure and continuous operation in a rapidly evolving data center landscape.

With limited site-work and smooth start up processes, they offer flexibility, scalability and cost-effectiveness to ensure a short and effective start-up, along with operative reliability and maintainability.

[i] https://www.itnews.asia/news/why-asia-pacifics-data-centre-demand-is-surging-562226

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About the author

Narain Chandwani

Narain Chandwani is ABB Australia’s Data Centre Segment Lead, having been involved in the data centre sector since 2012. In this role he is responsible for leading ABB's offering to the data center industry, from modular, flexible and scalable offerings to pre-engineered, pre-packaged solutions for the complete ‘power train’ aimed at helping our customers deliver on their promise of speed, 100% uptime, unpresented reliability and innovation. Narain holds a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering and Master of Marketing from the University of Mumbai, in addition to several accreditations for specialising in data center design.
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