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Thinking

Data centres that look to the future

In an industry characterised by rapid advances and changing requirements, data centre operators cannot afford to rely on what they have done in the past to secure success.

Designing and operating data centres that look to the future and are lasting assets for those who invest in them will require a sound knowledge of how the future of data centres might play out, the disruptors and influencers that require careful consideration and emerging technological possibilities.

Nowhere are disruptive forces requiring industry leaders to rethink the way they do business more evident than in the data centre industry. If data centre operators are to thrive in a future that is as yet unwritten, they will require in-depth insight into the many shifting aspects that will influence project success.

Understanding the source of data demand

Driven by the realisation of the Internet of Things, gamification and the emergence of the edge, the demand for high performance data centres is increasing… and increasing.

According to IDC and Seagate’s DataAge 2025 – The Digitization of the World Report, 75 per cent of the world’s population will interact with data on a daily basis by 2025. That equates to 6 billion people, as compared to 5 billion currently. In 2025, each connected person will have at least one data interaction every 18 seconds, many of which will be because of the billions of IoT devices connected across the globe.

The consequence of this increasing reliance on data will be a never-ending expansion in the size of the Global Datasphere. The Global Datasphere is forecast to grow to 175 zettabytes by 2025, as shown in the figure below. To get an idea of that quantum, a zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes.

Figure 1: Annual Size of the Global Datasphere

Annual size of the Global Datasphere

Understanding the ‘new’ influences

While it’s easy to understand demand, other influences are less straightforward and will become more complex as we move forward.

High performance has become ‘expected’

In the past, successful data centres were those which achieved high levels of redundancy requirements. Today, however, those high levels of redundancy have become the expected performance norm.

Designing for resource scarcity, not intensity

In addition, increasing demands in performance go hand-in-hand with the need for increased amounts of energy and water consumption. In the past, the challenge was to design for these requirements, whereas now, responsible development dictates we mitigate these requirements and take a step further, designing for resource scarcity in some areas. Free and emersion cooling are becoming increasingly attractive.

Location and the changing environment – thinking in a different way has become important

The location of data centres will change as operators look to gain efficiencies by locating close to cheap, clean energy and high-connected areas.

In addition, the environment is changing as water levels increase, temperatures rise and environmental extremes occur frequently. This impacts on where we locate data centres. Locations we previously considered may no longer be suitable, and new locations will be considered, due to lower risks.

The other exciting change will be the development of new materials and equipment to respond to these locations. If you consider the base raw materials involved in the construction of a data centre, little has changed in the past 50 years, so the opportunity to introduce materials and systems into future data centres is huge. As we explore new locations with our clients, we see the need for new thinking around how the data centre will be realised.

We’re seeing locations such as submarines utilised to take advantages of some of the natural benefits these locations offer.

Digital engineering – getting ready for even more change

In the same way that mobile devices were the game changer when it comes to data consumption, digital engineering is set to disrupt the virtual landscape as we know it. From intelligent buildings and 3D printers to 4, 5, 6 and even 7D reality, we are entering an era set to be a melting pot of exciting technology, devices, and interface points that will all require connection to our existing networks and infrastructure.

Speed to market – from site selection to going live

The data centre is the nucleus of the digital network and ‘speed to market’ is critical. Is it time for us to think of data centres as products, not one-off buildings? A step-change in digital delivery and the convergence of manufacturing and construction will drive this outcome. In the short term, a hybrid approach with flying factories on sites, leading to a kit of parts that create savings in time, cost, energy and an increase in productivity may be the answer.

As with all disruptive forces, benefits are there for the taking, but will require creativity and innovation. At Aurecon, this means finding new ways to transform our clients’ businesses and help them become more competitive through innovation.

In partnership with our data centre clients, we challenge the ‘status quo’ and envision what’s possible, and then design ways to get there.


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About the Authors

Peter Greaves, is Aurecon’s Buildings of the Future Leader, passionate about the use of digital technologies across the entire lifecycle of assets, from design to operations, to co-create with clients, facilities that meet the ever-changing needs of end-users.

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