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What does the next 12 months have in store for the data centre space?

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With some services seeing growth spike by 10x during the pandemic, the linear curve of data expansion has gone out of the window. Suddenly questions about infrastructure have taken on a new urgency, leading to new discussions about data centre design, optimisation and planning. Adrien Viaud, senior technology manager at Kingston Technology Europe delves deeper.

The last twelve months have been unlike any other, affecting both industry and individuals in a multitude of ways. Abrupt changes to work, leisure time and education have forced rapidly shifting demand, as significantly more time is spent indoors in front of screens, and reduced time in public spaces.

Commuting to offices, in-person education and socialising have declined, while working from home, e-learning and digital entertainment have risen.

This has created winners and losers in business. Many sections of consumer technology have been booming. Sales of products that can enable working from home have risen dramatically, such as webcams, laptops, second screens and even desks and chairs.

But other sectors have seen an equally major slump in demand. Clothing, perfume and shoes have become less important with a large section of the population housebound, and that’s besides the direct damage to the hospitality industry.

With any luck, 2021 might see normality appear on the horizon, relieving the pressure that led to these trends. But behind the scenes, the rapid increase in data demand has been a major headache, uncovering potential issues about how well-placed providers are for future growth.

The internet itself has had to cope with significant and unexpected extra load with expanded network activity sucking up more bandwidth than ever.

But as we’re spending our time watching digital videos, streaming content, playing games, collaborating with teams and chatting on video calls, we’re not just consuming more raw network capacity but also processing power in data centres, as every clicked link, sent message and decoded video requires a server somewhere to process it and send data back to the user.

Drivers of future data centre growth

Besides this spike in demand due to the adoption of hybrid cloud work setups, it is likely that medium-term data growth was already being underestimated.

The global adoption of 5G technologies is progressing rapidly, and in the same way that 4G technology led to a rapid uptake of data services, 5G will cause a similar rise in demand for data and data processing.

Its greatly improved performance and connectivity will lead to people using their devices more than ever before: more streaming, consumption, sharing, shopping and gaming.

But 5G isn’t just about faster video on mobile phones. It will enable new classes of application and devices, especially within IoT. The concept of a smart city for example makes more sense in a 5G world, with sensors embedded within buildings, cars and streets, each creating brand new streams of data that don’t exist in today’s world.

The sensible assumption is to plan for tomorrow’s growth rather than today’s and expect demand to be higher than current estimates.

We need not only more data centre capacity, but improved performance and more efficient use of the capacity we have.

On this latter point, edge computing is set to play a significant role in tomorrow’s data-driven world. Lack of UK capacity currently drives a lot of traffic to the US, adding significantly to bandwidth load, and the nature of remote working has created and is currently an area where the UK lags behind.

Social and environmental concerns

As demand is rapidly pushing forwards, the social impact of technology is concurrently seeing renewed interest, with a look at reducing the environmental impact and overall consumption of data centres.

Much can be achieved by rethinking data technology and doing more with less is something we should be aiming for.

Optimising storage capacity, improving performance, encryption, transitioning from SAS to SSDs, and the use of high-performance NAND can see data centres increase capacity while reducing their footprint. Techniques for improved cooling, reduced power consumption and even modular construction could have a part to play.

New technology has a solution

The last year has been driven by a rapid expansion of NVMe storage among client computing, while servers and enterprise customers have been investing in SSDs that includes both high volumes of general-purpose SATA storage as well as beginning to adopt high-performance NVMe server drives that will push data centre performance ahead.

It is likely that NVMe storage will be the technology that enables data centres to meet the aforementioned growth demands, especially when coupled with high-performance DRAM.

The raw throughput of PCIe SSD performance makes this possible, over six times that of SATA in the case of PCIe Gen 3 SSDs.

Adopting PCIe Gen 4 increases this to over ten times the performance of SATA storage, and therefore leading to considerably more capacity without increasing the physical footprint of data centres.

There are huge benefits from saving on rack space, power and the need for underlying equipment such as RAID controllers.

SATA has been an incredibly successful storage technology though, with billions of devices around the world using it. Despite the vastly improved throughput of NVMe, the transition is likely to take time.

The downside of any investment in new technology is always high cost, so choosing the right time to upgrade is crucial for many businesses. The decision depends on knowing your requirements and knowing whether your application layer can make the most of this performance now.

Another answer lies with the technical requirements of next-generation, higher capacity DRAM that also has a part to play in improving data performance.

Newer, denser 16Gbit memory chips require chipset upgrades that will push NVMe into a greater number of servers. This will lead to a double whammy of huge performance and capacity improvements for data centres, when providers choose to upgrade.

When planning an upgrade, asking an expert affiliated with your storage or DRAM vendor can help resolve technical issues such as this, as well as ensuring the best compatibility and performance from your hardware.

Most importantly, any potential solutions should match your specific business and application requirements, so it’s a great way to get some free advice before making significant configuration changes. These upgrades are likely to form the basis of shifts in data centre technology for the next three to five years and will be needed for the growing demand we expect to see.

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