Conversations around efficiency and utilisation in the data centre are evolving to reflect a more comprehensive and aggressive focus on sustainability.
This movement recognises the urgency of the climate crisis, the relationship between resource availability and rising costs, and shifting political winds around the world, according to experts from Vertiv.
“As we move into 2022, data centre operators and suppliers will actively pursue strategies that can make a real difference in addressing the climate crisis,” says Vertiv CEO Rob Johnson. “For our part, we continue to focus on energy efficiency across our portfolio, as well as alternative and renewable energy technologies and zero-carbon energy sources, to prioritize water-free cooling technologies, and to partner with research leaders and our customers to focus on impactful sustainability efforts.”
The actions data centre decision-makers take on these fronts will have a profound impact on the digital economy in 2022 and beyond. The urgency of these challenges is reflected in the 2022 trends identified by Vertiv’s experts.
Those trends are:
Data Centres Tackle Sustainability and the Climate Crisis
The data centre industry has taken steps toward more climate-friendly practices in recent years, but operators will join the climate effort more purposefully in 2022.
On the operational front, Vertiv experts predict some organisations will embrace sustainable energy strategies that utilise a digital solution that matches energy use with 100% renewable energy and ultimately operates on 24/7 sustainable energy.
Such hybrid distributed energy systems can provide both AC and DC power, which adds options to improve efficiencies and eventually allows data centres to operate carbon-free.
Fuel cells, renewable assets, and long-duration energy storage systems, including battery energy storage systems (BESS) and lithium-ion batteries, all will play a vital role in providing sustainable, resilient, and reliable outcomes. Thermal systems that use zero water are in demand, and we will see refrigerants with high global warming potential (GWP) phased down in favor of low-GWP refrigerants.
More immediately, extreme weather events related to climate change will influence decisions around where and how to build new data centers and telecommunications networks.
Other factors, including the reliability and affordability of the grid, regional temperatures, availability of water and renewable and locally generated sustainable energy, and regulations that ration utility power and limit the amount of power afforded to data centers, play a part in the decision-making as well.
These extreme weather events will drive more robust infrastructure systems across the ICT space which will need to be carefully aligned with sustainability goals. In 2022, data center and telecom operators will wrestle with these issues – and ever-present latency questions – and will drive a need for solutions that can address all of these challenges.
Artificial Intelligence Gets Real
As today’s networks get more complex and more distributed and the augmented and virtual reality demands of the metaverse become more prominent, the need for real-time computing and decision-making becomes more critical.
This real-time need is sensitive to latencies, and under the increasingly common hybrid model of enterprise, public and private clouds, colocation, and edge, full-time manual management is impractical, if not impossible.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will be critical to optimising the performance of these networks.
It will take focus and time to collect the right data, build the right models, and train the network platform to make the right decisions. However, the programming tools have become simplified enough that data scientists are able to point computing resources at a problem without having to be experts in programming or hardware.
The availability of AI hardware from established vendors, cloud options for the same, a simplified toolchain, and an educational focus on data science has put AI in play for even smaller companies. It all adds up to accelerated AI adoption in 2022.
As with every technological advance, there are ripple effects. The increase in AI will unavoidably increase computing and heat densities and, by extension, accelerate the adoption of liquid cooling.
Among other challenges are that lowering the barrier to entry places a premium on choosing the right vendors, platforms, and systems to trust.
The Post-Pandemic Data Centre Takes Shape
Some 2,9 gigawatts worth of new data center construction is under way globally – up from 1,6 gigawatts in 2020, according to Cushman & Wakefield. Those data centres will be the first built specifically to meet the needs of a post-Covid world.
More activity will be focused at the edge, where VMware projects a dramatic shift in workload distribution – from 5% currently to 30% over the next five years.
Availability will remain the top priority, even at the edge, but lower latency is a rising need to support healthy buildings, smart cities, distributed energy resources, and 5G.
2022 will see increased investment in the edge to support this new normal (remote work, increased reliance on ecommerce and telehealth, video streaming) and the continuing rollout of 5G.
Drive Toward Integration
Various data center equipment providers have been embracing integrated systems that allow for modular capacity additions for years, with integrated racks and rows among today’s most popular data centre offerings.
In 2022, we’ll see the next step in integration as data centres work with providers to better integrate larger systems – all components of the power infrastructure, for example – and deliver seamless interoperability.
The benefits of integration as a concept are well known – reduced construction and deployment costs, flexible capacity management – and applying the same approach across larger systems delivers speed. Rack-based power solutions are early accelerators of integration momentum.