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Embracing innovation in 2024

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Image: Adobe Stock / sdecoret

Dave King, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Cadence, explains how data centres can embrace technological innovation and tackle challenges in 2024.

The data centre industry is undergoing a period of unprecedented demand, driven by the exponential rise in data consumption. So much so that 2023 was the largest second quarter on record for data centre demand in Europe, according to JLL. This is placing pressure on facilities to scale up and enhance efficiency. Simultaneously, they are facing other challenges around carbon emissions and the digital skills gap.

To overcome these dilemmas, digital twins, artificial intelligence (AI), large language models (LLMs), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) will become more commonplace. Let’s explore how these trends could play out this year.

A new approach to maximise success of digital twins

Meeting capacity demands isn’t an easy task for facilities, especially with the increasing reliance society has on technology. Such demands will only continue as technologies like AI and automation become increasingly popular. To address this, facilities will turn to data centre digital twins – virtual replicas of physical facilities. These tools are already enabling operators to achieve maximum capacity out of their existing architecture. As more facilities adopt this technology, it will have a positive knock-on effect, delaying the need to build new data centres and therefore saving on carbon emission and financial costs.

However, for digital twins to have the best possible impact, data centre managers need to know that you can’t just plug in and play with this technology. While exceptionally valuable, their power sits in their ability to accurately mirror the precise activity of the physical realm. As such, for full impact, digital twin integrations must have a foundation of high-quality, accurate data, meaning a centralised view of the businesses is required. Thankfully, this is increasingly acknowledged and is maximising digital twin success.

LLMs to be intertwined with digital twins

It’s been over a year since ChatGPT left companies rushing to integrate some form of LLMs into various technological offerings. With the digital twin market set to reach $101.1 billion by 2028, more people will have access to and want to easily use digital twins to speed up workplace decision-making and overcome time constraints and productivity expectations. In turn, there’s likely going to be a greater desire to incorporate LLMs into the technology.

However, companies must consider the maturity of LLMs, weighing up what is actually achievable. Getting to a point where LLMs can be intertwined with digital twins to ask the more complicated questions will take time, particularly in data centres, which are naturally complex environments. Employees won’t be able to just ask any question tomorrow and expect a valid response.

AI’s role in data centres will evolve

AI has been harnessed to support data centre operations for many years. In 2023, generative AI focused companies’ attention on AI and automation, with many delighted by its sophistication. As we move into 2024, we’re likely to see companies be pickier with the AI opportunities they pursue.

Yes, AI will still be used to solve the smaller challenges that it has already proven it can. For example, advising on energy management, filling manual labour gaps, or automating capacity management. However, it won’t be the first option for addressing larger, enterprise-changing challenges – like running data centres instead of human operators to address skills shortages. While the industry innovators will be looking at when and how they can pursue the benefits of AI on a larger scale, in the short term, the large majority of investments in AI will focus on small-scale immediate remedies.

Carbon emission discussions reach the boardroom

Technology growth has accelerated at a rapid rate. In response, the hyperscale market is expected to grow 20% from 2021 to 2026. Data centres are bracing themselves to deliver faster on rising capacity demands. To facilitate this, operators will need to invest in new technologies.

In the process, they will need to account for the new environmental, social, and governance (ESG) regulations coming into force next year. This includes the European Union’s Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) and Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which require larger enterprises to disclose their carbon usage from both a direct and indirect standpoint. For instance, when implementing a new server, data centre operators will need to measure and report on the impact of its purchase, construction, transportation, maintenance, and deconstruction.

In this climate, it will no longer be possible for companies to shift their greenhouse emissions downstream. Traditionally, companies devolved their responsibilities for ESG as the data was ‘in the cloud’. As they can’t say this now, the pressure will be on. Corporate departments will shift their mindsets and invest in more thorough energy reporting techniques. These techniques could include requesting a deeper analysis of metrics to calculate the accurate power usage effectiveness (PUE) and real efficiencies of their facilities, so they can understand and report on their true carbon footprint.

Addressing the skills gap

The amount of innovative technology in use across data centres is on the rise, but there’s also a lack of new talent entering the sector. This is causing a perfect talent shortage storm.

Not enough young people are being enticed to explore a career in the sector. Meanwhile, a large proportion of the data centre workforce is nearing retirement age. As a result, the skills of the older demographic can’t be transferred to enough new talent. In addition, new and evolving technologies demand specific skills, making it even harder to recruit the right people. To mitigate this challenge, facilities will be looking to use a combination of digital twins, AR, and VR.

For example, a digital twin’s ability to simulate changes is ideal when there’s a shortage of staff available in set locations. This is because it allows potentially less experienced staff to make risk-free changes to the model in the virtual realm before implementing them in the physical environment.

In addition, VR headsets or AR-enabled glasses can help with these challenges. Using these tools, the real data centre environment can be overlayed with insightful digital information, such as user manuals, live monitoring data, or even simulation results. Site staff can use these virtual insights to make accurate decisions that they may not otherwise have had the required knowledge to make and have it displayed in the physical counterpart.

Digital twins, VR, and AR will help upskill staff and enable a smaller amount of highly skilled individuals to direct operators and engineers on the floor. This is a game changer for data centres rushing to find solutions to plug the skills gap.

A year of innovation

This year, the data centre industry will be presented with a variety of challenges – mainly skills-, environment-, or capacity-related. However, the right technologies will equip facilities with the tools necessary to address these issues head-on and come out stronger for them. The key technology at play will be digital twins. Its leading role in 2023 will not only help operators overcome the difficulties thrown their way but foster constant innovation.

Dave King
Dave King
Senior Product Manager at Cadence

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