Taking the digital leap

Taking the digital leap

ABB’s Henrik Palmgren reveals how digitalisation can support next generation IT managers in delivering scalable, flexible and automated solutions and take DCIM and data centre automation beyond the IT infrastructure.

As demand for data continues to grow, together with emerging trends to robotise and use AI (Artificial Intelligence) in data centres, the complexities for IT managers and consultants become ever more intricate. Not only do they need to navigate their way around data ownership, security, safety, storage and maintenance, they also need to be one-step ahead on technical know-how and insight.

In just a few years, the industry has moved out of the back-room closet, where a series of connected products and systems with parameter settings and controls operated, to larger commercial operations, some categorised as mega facilities, with products and systems entwined and housed across several locations.

In a recent report, IDG (International Data Group) projected that “mega-data centres” will account for 70% of construction in the sector over the next few years. Colocation or outsourced data centres are increasing, as more and more businesses in financial services and other industrial sectors are taking advantage of scalability, increased storage and the cost savings they offer.

According to the ‘Colocation Data Centre Industry Global Markets to 2020’ report, the colocation landscape is anticipated to grow at 15.4% between 2016 and 2020, with an estimated worth of $54.8 billion.

So, what are the key trends in the ever-expanding data highway that data centre managers should get to grips with?

As colocation facilities and outsourced, hyperconverged data centres grow, the need for greater automation across multiple facilities will become more apparent to manage the complex energy and operational needs of the world’s ever-expanding information hubs.

Modern data centres already rely on a variety of automated processes (for example, the monitoring and control of cooling units). But as the drive toward lights-out operation continues, we can expect even more automation across the industry, including the ability to manage multiple facilities from a single control centre. This will put a premium on presenting relevant data to operators and on configuring or changing a local network remotely.

The colocation landscape is anticipated to grow at 15.4% between 2016 and 2020, with an estimated worth of $54.8 billion

Simplicity will also be a key factor in managing the data centre environment by reducing the number of control layers, doing more at a local level (autonomously, if possible), and reducing latency.

In addition to the need for automation and simplicity, the industry also requires an acute awareness of the macro-economic and environmental need for greater energy and cost efficiencies, with many looking ever deeper and farther afield in search of savings. Already the digital goliaths of Google and Facebook are deploying new AI optimisation and temperature sensors to improve energy consumption when cooling.

But in this short list of key trends what may not be apparent is the dependence on digitalisation. Intelligent data needs intelligent power. With increasing data demand and complex data systems, digitalisation delivers an elastic infrastructure that can grow or shrink with the load.

It is essential that today’s data centres and major system solutions are designed with elasticity in mind, from conception to design. This smart ‘digitalisation’ of the power train means operators can do more with their assets because better control leads to better utilisation, with maximum uptime and information.

The peer-to-peer architecture of digital systems will give data centre managers and operators access to best practice benchmarking at the industry-level and greater visibility of cross-industry data. These systems, along with features such as advanced power analytics, intelligent alarm and event handling will provide greater transparency into operations at both device and enterprise level.

This is useful as it allows potential issues to be identified and resolved before they can cause significant damage or downtime.

Safety is of course a major concern when high-voltage power systems are required. Data centre personnel can be insulated from exposure to high voltages during inspections or maintenance activities through digitalisation.

By using diagnostics, alarms and event setting, data centre teams can proactively report and accurately pinpoint issues, thereby reducing the risk of exposure due to human error and further enhancing onsite safety.

Intelligent data needs intelligent power

As dependence on data centres grows, so too does the need for protection against cybersecurity threats within the data centre itself. The adoption of smart digitalisation can help operators proactively monitor and control the system through deep and granular visibility, to detect and deter threats across the full spectrum of the data centre.

Data centres in the European Union consumed 25% more energy in 2017 than in 2014, according to data from Eureca, a project funded by the European Commission to increase knowledge and awareness of data centres and the energy they use.

In addition, the global rollout of 5G, the wireless equivalent of a broadband data connection, will put the growth of digital data into overdrive, requiring ever greater energy-management and operational efficiencies for the data centres of the future.

With data demand refusing to lessen and more operations adopting IoT platforms, providers who manage those energy tasks must do it in a way that provides operational efficiency and reliability for today’s businesses. Dependence on sophisticated technology and deep-seated, proactive technical expertise can be delivered through all-in-one automation solutions.

Digitalisation for on-premise and hybrid cloud environments provide the possibility of converging both IT and OT through a single pane of glass. This offers complete transparency and interoperability for continuous optimisation and high availability.

Whatever challenges data centre operations may be facing today, whether it’s space savings, modularity and flexibility, energy efficiency, continuous operation or safety and security, digitalisation breaks down these parameters, navigates the digital divide and overrides the obstacles of our complex data architecture to keep data flowing.