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The engine driving the WFA revolution

Image: Adobe Stock / Connect world

WFH is old hat, WFA is where it’s at. Here, Jack Bedell-Pearce, CEO at 4D Data Centres, discusses the progression from office, to home, to anywhere. The world really is our oyster, Wi-Fi permitting.

In the face of a global pandemic, the sudden switch from WFO to WFH (work from office to home) led to a dramatic acceleration in the trend towards video conferencing and remote collaboration, with companies having to adapt almost overnight.

But with vaccinations now being rolled out, the question on the minds of many business owners is ‘what’s next for digital nomad workers?’ As we tentatively approach the much-touted ‘new normal’, 2021 will herald a new three-letter acronym for hybrid working practices – WFA (working from anywhere).

At the core of the WFA revolution will be even greater scrutiny of productivity and collaboration, with SaaS (Software as a Service) such as Zoom and Slack and other cloud services playing a big part in these changes.

But underpinning all these essential technologies is a global infrastructure of high-speed internet connections and buildings that are dedicated to looking after servers – data centres.

Head in the cloud

Businesses rely on stability and continuity which is why when everyone rapidly moved from WFO to WFA, there was a huge amount of attention on the network providers delivering connectivity and the data centre operators hosting all the technology.

Fortunately, capacity planning and risk mitigation is baked into the DNA of ISPs and DC Operators, which meant when demand did ramp up, none of the services went down.

While data centres and network capacity take a while to build (which is why good capacity management is so important), a reliable short-term indicator of rapid growth in these sectors are the sales figures for global spending on public cloud services.

With the value of the industry currently estimated to increase by 18.4% in 2021 and hit $304.9bn, this will be a bumper year for providers of all four of the major cloud deployment models: private cloud, public cloud, community cloud and hybrid cloud.

This continued rise in demand for cloud services will accelerate data centre construction projects as operators look to increase their capacity to keep up with the market.

A clear example of this is the construction of Nestwise’s new data centre facility in Canning Town, London, work on which began during the first UK lockdown in the Spring of 2020.

Projects like this and the 56 new hyperscale sites that went live in the second half of 2020 go some way to showcasing the continued high levels of demand for data providers and how important they have been for facilitating our changing work patterns.

The pandemic has forced companies to rapidly accelerate a number of business trends on a global scale.

Some of the areas that have seen the most acute acceleration include e-commerce and automation, with up to 25% more workers needing to change career than previously anticipated.

Global tech powerhouses including Amazon, Microsoft and Twitter have shown a desire to continue to keep operations remote for the foreseeable future, allowing staff the choice to be based remotely if they desire.

This comes as business leaders in the city have made clear their commitment to the hybrid working model, with the majority of the 50 biggest employers in the country set to continue to offer remote working as restrictions continue to ease.

As we move beyond the worst effects of the pandemic, we seem set to continue to see some form of remote working and attached to that a persisting presence of video calls and conferences.

Around 20 to 25% of the workforces in major economies were able to work from home between three and five days a week, while this on paper represents a low number from a data consumption angle, it is significant and data centres and network operators have shown they can cope incredibly well with the rapid adoption of WFA across 2020 and 2021.

The sector is well placed to continue to support this transition as companies’ eye up long-term hybrid working models and we continue to drift away from the traditional working patterns in both the UK and other major nations. 

The pandemic has placed data centres under unprecedented strain, yet the sector managed to successfully “keep the lights on” and ride out the worst effects proving a lifeline for many.

The data centre industry will continue to be a crucial cog in the WFA shift even as we continue to see a vision of a return to some shape of normality.

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