It’s a new year with new challenges for data centre operators. Here, Dave Sterlace, Head of Technology for ABB Global Data Center Solutions looks at the top five themes that are emerging for European data centres looking to expand and grow in 2022.
Demand for data in Europe is voracious. By 2025, there will be an estimated 715 million internet users on the continent and an estimated 83% of Europeans accessing it via a mobile internet connection. To keep pace with this growing appetite for data, data centre operators need to use their resources in the smartest way, to ensure growth in the sector is sustainable for their customers and the planet.
This sets the scene for the overall megatrend for 2022 which is sustainability – we need to build greener data centres and reduce energy waste. Within this overall theme, we have identified five key trends that we expect to see unfold this year:
- The switch to sustainable power
Hot on the heels of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow last year, sustainability and ambitions to keep global warming under 2oC will be top of the agenda for data centre operators in 2022. One way we will see data centres do this is by supporting the shift to more renewable power generation, such as by switching to a UPS with Frequency Regulation Functionality (FRF). This technology allows the UPS to interact with the grid and provide balancing services from unused reserves of power.
The way FRF works is simple. Normally, energy flows from the grid to the load and the battery, to keep it charged. If there is a grid issue (for example if the grid is under pressure to deliver more electricity during a peak period), energy for the load is taken from the data centre’s UPS battery.
This support can also go the other way. If there is an increase in grid frequency and the grid operator needs to offload some power, it can be discharged to the UPS battery banks.
As well as helping to regulate the local power grid, adding FRF to UPS installations helps balance the books as grid operators offer financial compensation for frequency balancing services.
In 2022, we also expect to see more Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) providing alternate power for data centres, as well as the rollout of pilots for the use of fuel cells which will further reduce CO2 emissions compared to traditional diesel gensets.
- Move to MV
As facilities continue to grow in terms of their size, we will see an increase in demand for incoming Medium Voltage (MV) power. There are a lot of advantages to incoming MV power, such as higher reliability and fewer losses. MV equipment is energy efficient too – last year, we saw an MV UPS solution come to market offering 98% efficiency, which would have been unheard of a few years ago.
While some data centre operators may not be as familiar with MV gear, there are many safety offerings available to mitigate risk such as arc resistant switchgear and arc limiting technology, which will become more standard in larger data centres in 2022 and beyond.
- More modular solutions
With the race to create more capacity to cope with exponential demand, 2022 will see more data centre operators favouring offsite manufacturing with the use of modular and prefabricated building models over traditional ‘stick built’ approaches.
Using modular, scalable equipment and prefabricated and pre designed solutions, such as eHouses and skids, reduces build completion time by as much as 50% compared to traditionally built data centres.
Modular electrification solutions are flexible and scalable, and incorporate standard blocks of power which can be repeated to allow for future expansion. While the designs are standardised to a point, every site has different requirements so variables such as utility voltage, the total size of the data centre, and the optimal design for cooling based on the local climate, are all incorporated into the final prefabricated product.
Modular solutions often have built-in digital capabilities such as energy and asset management functions which can help data centres measure and manage their energy consumption as they grow too.
- The skills gap
It’s well documented that the industry is facing a skills gap, in terms of access to specialist contractors and trades, and the growing shortage of skilled workers will ultimately have a major impact on the sector’s ability to build new capacity.
As well as a shortage of specialist subcontractors and trades, there is also increasing difficulty in recruiting and retaining data centre staff, which will further add challenges to the industry this year. As a result, we are likely to see more interest in remote support services in 2022, as these provide fast support and troubleshooting via immersive augmented reality and other digital platforms, giving data centre operators access to the advanced technical expertise they don’t have inhouse.
- Downtime prevention
With the latest research showing that outages now cost operators’ customers on average $740,000 , 2022 will see a shift in data centre operations towards avoiding unplanned downtime using the latest technologies such as digitalisation and preventative maintenance as well as more lean topologies which champion efficiency and utilisation.
Data centre outages are getting more expensive and more disruptive too – such as the outage which brought down Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram in October 2021 and caused a multimillion loss in total revenue and a drop in the company’s shares. This is one trend data centres will want to see less of this year and why reliability is set to jump up the priorities list.
In summary, the trends we’ve identified for 2022 show that data centre operators need to shift their focus to concentrate on sustainable, robust and reliable growth. There are clever technological solutions available that can provide answers to some of the challenges the industry will be facing but ultimately, some aspects such as the skills gap will need longer-term solutions which require a broader industry approach.