Data centre industry: latest developments and challenges operators are facing this year

Alessandro Bruschini of Aruba

The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an impact on the data centre business. Overnight, we saw a large increase in demand for web-enabled and digital services as people around the world sought refuge in their own homes. Furthermore, organisations that had not previously advocated for digital transformation and cloud adoption found themselves reconsidering their position and moving online, putting further strain on data centres’ ability to store and manage all this data, says Alessandro Bruschini, infrastructure manager at Aruba.

This insatiable demand for data centre capacity and bandwidth will continue to exponentially grow in 2021 as businesses look to accelerate their online offerings to customers and drive more profits. This will force data centre operators to rethink the effect that the current “digital everything” movement is having on the overall data centre infrastructure, as well as their investment and expansion plans particularly with a view to going ‘greener’.

Here are my top four hot takes for the next developments and challenges that data centre operators can expect in 2021.

Too much data to handle

According to CB Insights, data centres will continue to play a vital role in the ingestion, computation, storage, and management of information, with over 175 zettabytes of data expected by 2025. Covid-19 highlighted the seismic shift in data usage and growth from, moving business activities online, working from home, learning remotely via e-classes, etc., and pushed those numbers to record levels. It’s clear that the anticipated global growth rates of the capacity to privately exchange data, via data centres is forecasted to be big.

Operators that have paused their current campus development plans and expansions have been caught out in the quest to meet immediate demands and will look to regret it in the long-term. Now is the time to resume capacity building and increase efforts towards expansion, something that we have already been working underway, with the planned extension of our 200,000 square metre campus located in Ponte San Pietro, Milan to include two new data centres, DC-B and DC-C.

Bigger focus on power demand

With climate change being such a hot topic, vendors and operators are quickly realising that there is an urgent need to increase the energy efficiency of data centres and reduce their environmental impact. For example, many of the data centres operating today account for about 1% of global electricity demand according to IEA and it was predicated a few years back that data centres will account for one-fifth of global electrical consumption by 2025. This in part driven by the quick rise in demand for digital services such as media streaming and overall broadband data consumption which expands the energy consumption in cloud, colocation and enterprise data centres.

Sustainability is key to the future development of data centres. We’re seeing more and more companies reducing their ecological footprint and treating sustainability as a business imperative. With data continuing to grow in size and with environmental issues at the top of the socio-political agenda of countries and companies around the globe, a plan must be made for data centres to become more sustainable.

The issue here is that the energy produced through green initiatives tends to be more expensive than standard energy, which means that sustainable alternatives must consume less energy so that organisations are not left out of pocket. However, we are confident that in the future we’ll be able to increase the size, speed and reliability of data centres whilst saving costs and reducing our carbon footprint.

Renewables and sustainability are the next frontier

Of course, it’s not just about how power is used. Any energy efficiency discussion must also address how power is generated and collected. The challenge is that going ‘green’ isn’t always easy. Energy produced through green initiatives tends to be more expensive than standard energy, which means that sustainable alternatives must consume less energy so that organisations aren’t left out of pocket. In fact, it’s the transport of energy from plant to centre that tends to produce most efficiency losses. One way in which to combat this and reduce overall costs is to produce renewable energy in the same location or promiximity and transport it closer to the data centre.

For example, hydroelectric plants can be used to harness the power of flowing water in the same location as a data centre, to generate energy in a sustainable and cost-efficient way. This is similar to our very own hydroelectric plant inside Aruba’s Global Cloud Data Centre campus in Milan. By producing energy in the same place or in proximity to where the energy is used and distributed, and reducing that transport path, deploying this option can make all the difference in terms of “transport vs cost“ efficiency.

In addition, another way to reduce energy consumption is to replace traditional cooling solutions with geothermal systems that make use of the cold water found underground, enabling the system to be very energy efficient. Despite progress being made, the industry can’t afford to stand still. For example, we’ve already already made the shift towards realising our negative carbon footprint vision, by strengthening our renewable energy production capacity with the acquisition of Idroelettrica Veneta S.p.A. This includes four new hydroelectric plants, in addition to the one already present within Aruba’s Global Cloud Data Centre in Ponte San Pietro (BG).

So where do we go forward from here?

A hot topic at the moment is the coming together of all companies, firms and associations as one to discuss a unified view on standards and regulations. the EU Commission recently put pressure on data centre providers to take action to reduce their carbon footprints. In its 2020 report ‘Shaping Europe’s digital future‘ the EC says that the industry “can and should become climate neutral by 2030,” highlighting the need to “become more energy-efficient, reuse waste energy, and use more renewable energy sources.”

More recently twenty five data centre, cloud provider companies and 17 associations have signed a pledge to commit to making Europe’s data centres climate neutral by 2030, in a significant effort to ensure long-term sustainability in the industry. The initiative is called the Climate Neutral Data Centre pact and is entirely self-regulated by its signatories.

The author is Alessandro Bruschini, Infrastructure Manager at Aruba.

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