With the digital transformation of the world we live in accelerating in recent times, every business has been forced to make some big decisions about how they approach their data. And the mountain of data continues to get bigger and bigger. In 2018, the global volume of data was a ‘mere’ 33 zettabytes (ZB). By 2025 though, IDC predicts that number will balloon to 175 ZB. With the amount of information gathered and processed by businesses growing all the time, legacy data centres are beginning to struggle under strain.
The era of big data demands a new approach. Today, businesses require a flexible data centre solution that can scale upon demand. This is one of the reasons why the cloud has become so popular in recent years. The other big factor is latency. When looking to adapt offerings in real-time from data from sources such as transactions or social data, that data needs to be accurate and up-to-date. To facilitate this, data centres need to be able to get the right data to the right applications as quickly as possible. Any delay could leave a business using inaccurate and outdated information to drive their decision-making.
As BIS Infotech notes, big data has had a significant impact on how data centres handle traffic and processing, with batch and stream processing expected to be handled in real-time. “To support all these transactions/processes that are happening in real-time, a data centre must be equipped with enough processing power, storage I/Os and network bandwidth.”
The demands of big data are undoubtedly having an impact on IT professionals’ thinking when it comes to choosing a data centre. One trend is clear. Very few businesses have the money or resources to build their own dedicated data centres. The odd big corporate – such as a big bank or pharmaceutical company – may be able to justify the investment, but that is usually for regulatory or security reasons. The vast majority of businesses are instead turning towards colocation and the cloud.
As well as the obvious cost benefits of having no capital expenditure, moving to a cloud-based solution also gives businesses access to a greater amount of processing power than they would often be able to achieve on their own. In the past, this kind of processing power was either the domain of large enterprises or would have meant a large bill from a data centre provider. Yet, as technology has advanced, this type of capability is becoming more and more affordable for small and medium-sized firms too.
Once it was thought that data centres had to be sitting right on top of the exchange to provide the type of low-latency, real-time results today’s businesses demand. However, this is no longer the case. Facilities are now just as likely to be located in rural locations where costs such as rent and staffing can be considerably cheaper. Any concerns that these facilities would offer poorer performance compared with more central urban locations have been assuaged in recent years, as IT pros have had the chance to see what they are capable of.
The negative impact that the surge in data centres is putting on the planet is well documented and needs to be addressed. The energy consumption of the world’s data centres is predicted to account for 3.2 per cent of the total worldwide carbon emissions by 2025 and as much as one-fifth of the total amount of electricity used worldwide. By 2040, storing digital data is set to create 14 per cent of the world’s emissions, around the same proportion as the US does today.
However, there have been a few shining lights in recent times. Facebook’s facility in Lulea, Sweden uses natural air cooling from its location in the Arctic circle and renewable hydropower to keep its carbon footprint down. Similarly, Switch’s data centre campus in Las Vegas is seeking to codify its sustainability practices including the ability ‘to run forever without water’, energy storage system redundancy and 100% renewable power from local, new, renewable projects. Finally, the use of a cooling economiser and the removal of heat through low-temperature ambient air at Google’s flagship data centre has led to it using 50% less energy than the typical data centre.
There is no doubt that data is one of the world’s most valuable commodities today. Across the world’s business hubs, data centre demand has been driven by the rapid adoption of cloud services and the emergence of digitally transformative business models born out of the Internet of Things (IoT). With sustainability now at the forefront of many people’s minds – and deservedly so – it would be great to think that the data centres of the future will impact the planet far less than they do now. However, that remains to be seen.