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Data centre evolution — what’s next?

Marion Stewart, the chief operating officer at Pulsant, discusses what the future of the data centre looks like, and what it can offer in the face of cloud computing.

The data centre hasn’t changed much in the last few years. Approaches to cooling and resilience may have evolved, but at the heart of it, the data centre has remained largely the same. With the increased popularity of cloud computing in the data centre market, this signalled a slow decline in the use of data centre services. The result was that many analysts predicted the demise of the data centre.

In the last 18 months, however, there has been significant movement in data centre services. Global market research firm Technavio has predicted a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17% over the next four years, which equates to growth of $284.44 billion, or roughly £232 billion.

The growth of opportunity

The driver of this growth is undoubtedly the increase in data generation. Along with that comes the need to process and store it. Consider that in the next six years the volume of data that we’re creating will increase by 61%. To put that into bits and bytes, that’s 175 zettabytes of generated data by 2025.

The continued adoption of IoT, the introduction of more end devices to the internet, and the advent of new technologies like 5G are pushing this growth of data. There’s also increased awareness of the opportunity that this data presents to businesses; whether that’s getting under the skin of consumer behaviour, collating patient data for better diagnosis and care, or monitoring environments like critical infrastructure.

Organisations need somewhere to gather, process and store data, with data centres being the natural solution. While many are turning to the public cloud for the same thing, it’s important to remember that while the cloud brings great benefits to business, it is not necessarily the solution to all problems.

This is especially true as the demand for real-time data and insights becomes ever greater.

Data centre or cloud?

The data centre often outperforms the cloud when it comes to performance, compliance and cost. Again, this is more relevant considering the appetite for real-time analytics. Business-critical data, for example, gathered at the source and processed for insights, needs to be constantly available with no delay in delivering intelligence. Data centres, closer to the source of where the data is generated, are certainly more practical in removing latency and performance issues than using the cloud.

The same can be said when it comes to cost; getting data into the cloud is cheap and easy. But when it comes to processing the data, using the compute power and delivering those datasets and insights out of the cloud, the costs begin to rise significantly. In a data centre environment, those costs are fixed and predictable; while you’re paying for your connectivity and power, there are no additional costs based on the amount of data that is moving in and out of them.

Many organisations have strict compliance and regulatory requirements around where data is stored and processed. Apart from data sovereignty issues, many businesses in heavily regulated industries need to know where their data is physically located — not always possible with the cloud, but easily achieved with data centre services.

The changing data centre

As the demand for more real-time data and processing taking place closer to the data generation source grows, the role of the data centre will only increase, a sentiment reflected in market research. But that’s not to say the data centre can stay the same. Rather, it’s time for the humble data centre to evolve to ensure it can keep pace with demand and enable organisations to capitalise on the massive opportunity that data represents.

Whether this means retrofitting existing data centres to ingest information and process it more quickly, or refurbishing the connectivity or electricity supply of older facilities or those no longer used for mission critical functions.

We’re already seeing data centre providers adapting their commercial models to become more flexible in terms of contract length and the services on offer. The commercial model of colocation is changing.

In the longer term, IoT and edge computing will change the way that data centres are built in terms of mechanical and electrical requirements, as well as where they are built. The next-generation data centre will therefore meet the need of being closer to the data sources; or tactically facilitate the transmission of data, while delivering commercially flexible options to organisations.

Moving forward

The growth of data isn’t slowing down, nor is it likely to stop. It’s a natural consequence of the evolution of technology and the ongoing demand organisations have to deliver better customer service and boost their bottom line. Going forward there will be a host of ways that businesses can achieve this, and it is the next-generation data centre that will have a significant role to play.

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