The Future of Data Centers: How Tech is Forcing Change

Data centers are the glue that holds the internet and the World Wide Web together. We take the huge server racks that hold the cloud and the internet together for granted, but without data centers, all of the services that we use on a daily basis just couldn’t function.

Thirty years ago, data centers as we knew them just didn’t exist. Nowadays, they’re vital parts of our infrastructure, and yet they’re still evolving over time and the relentless evolution of technology is forcing that change to happen.

After all, as the internet continues to grow, it requires more and more resources to run. This has cost implications, but it also has huge environmental implications due to the fact that data centers require large amounts of electricity to function. That’s why more and more providers are switching to sustainable electricity sources such as solar and wind power.

The Rising Tide

It’s tough to imagine a life without technology because of how vast and far-reaching it is in our modern society. Ever since the first computer was invented, we’ve had to learn how to deal with the vast amounts of information and data that came with it. This leads to the problem of how to store all of that data. After all, according to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, we create as much data every two days as we did from the dawn of civilization until 2003. And he said that back in 2010, so we’re creating even more data now than we were then.

Because of this need for storage space and processing power, the data center has become an integral part of society without most people even noticing. But at the same time, the fast-paced nature of technology and its evolution is a double-edged sword. Our needs from ten years ago are totally different from our needs today.

As we move into the future, data centers will only become more and more important. From personal experience as a CTO of Houston based TRG datacenters, I believe that data and all macrotrends in this field represent a rising tide for the industry as a whole. This means that the industry will need to continue to grow and adapt even further. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. After all, the future of data centers is what this article is about, and with that in mind, we’ve identified four key areas within the data center field and taken a look at what the future will look like for them.

Let’s take a look at just four of the main trends that are set to shape the data center industry in 2019 and beyond.

  1. Enterprises Entering Traditional Colocation

More and more enterprises (i.e. large, complex companies) are starting to realise that they need to switch to a colocation facility. Too many of them are trapped in legacy owned data centers that just aren’t up to what’s being asked of them. Perhaps the company is growing too quickly and the data center can’t keep up, or perhaps they’re overbuilt due to consolidation and virtualization.

That’s why more and more people are switching to colocation centers, so that much of the infrastructure is taken care of on their behalf. Enterprises are starting to realize that there’s a big difference between corporate IT, which is application level management and network infrastructure, and running a data center. That’s why, companies will continue switch to blends of using the cloud or basing their servers in large colocation facilities. They’re the only practical choices.

  1. Consolidating Market

As the data center industry continues to mature, we can expect both data center design and their day-to-day operations to become more standardized. It’s similar to how we’ve seen big players like Facebook, Google and Amazon all consolidating their respective shares of the internet by buying up smaller companies and increasing their user-base.

In the data center industry, we can expect to see something similar, with fewer players in the market and greater barriers to entry for startups. That’s one of the reasons why the colocation data center market is growing, because it removes some of the barriers that would otherwise be in place for data to scale. At the same time, consumers are holding data center suppliers to higher standards.

The Uptime Institute has been working since 1993 to create a set of industry wide standards. Although they are not the only ones, more contemporary competitors also see the need for standards across the sector. As the market continues to consolidate, expect the same industry standards to be implemented.

  1. Edge/IOT

As other technologies continue to develop, there’s even more of a need for data centers to store and process the data that we create. This is compounded by current trends like an increase in content richness, artificial intelligence/machine learning and low latency applications. Suddenly, data centers are being pushed out of their big, centralized locations and out into local municipalities.

As we continue to follow AI towards its logical conclusion, we run into other issues like auditing and compliance requirements. Let’s take self-driving cars, for example. They’re highly sophisticated, sensor-dense machines and we need to store and analyze the data that they create not just in the short-term but in the long-term. It’s vital if we want to actually learn from that data and to use it to make improvements.

It remains to be seen just how modular the edge becomes, with companies like Vapor.io seeing investment by companies like Crown Castle, the largest owner of cell tower infrastructure in the United States. There may be a future where data is processed all around us, in real time.

  1. The Cloud

The cloud has already had a substantial impact on technology. It didn’t take long for it to become the new norm in many cases, mobile phone data storage being the prime example. The growth of the cloud adds another service for data centers to provide. Whilst the data in the cloud may be readily accessible from most places, it still needs to be stored within a data center.

This growth will likely allow new business and pricing models, such as software as a service. Still, there’s a long way for cloud technology to go and there’s plenty of room for it to continue and develop. In the coming years, expect cloud to mature and to find its place in the world.

Over the coming years, expect Small to Medium-Sized Businesses (SMBs) to start taking advantage of cloud-based software while larger organizations with more specific requirements will continue to use private and hybrid clouds as a matter of course. One of the great frontiers for the cloud is disaster recovery and the ability to carry out temporary analysis workloads for AI, so watch this space and don’t be surprised to see some major innovation in the next ten years, or so.

As the term matures, expect enterprise to learn the place of cloud in their overall data strategy. With regards to data centers, many people ask the question about whether the cloud replaces the data center. At the end of the day, the cloud must also reside somewhere. This is typically distributed through data centers around the United States.

Conclusion

After all, data centers will power the world of the future, but only if we put the framework in place that will allow it to develop. The potential advantages to both our society and to the companies that drive this push into the future are phenomenal, and the rewards are still up for grabs. Most forward-thinking data center companies are already future-proofing their businesses. Are you?

About the Author:

Chris Hinkle is CTO of Houston based TRG Data Centers. As a third-generation data center operator with a strength in design he enjoys the cross section of engineering and economics that data centers represent, and utilize experience owning data centers as a feedback for design in many ways that your typical engineer misses from a desk.

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