Data Center Evolution in 2023: Efficiency is the Name of the Game

By John Schmidt, Senior Vice President, Building & Data Center Connectivity, CommScope.

The past few years have introduced unprecedented business conditions for all industries, but among the hardest hit are cloud-based services that are managed by the global network of data centers. The business model has changed to accept new realities and meet new obligations, and extrapolating this recent history into the near future is, at best, an uncertain exercise.

However, it is vital that we gain as clear a perspective as possible, as more of the world relies more than ever on cloud services and, by extension, data center operations. If there is one thing we know the future holds, it is that our dependence on them is going to increase.

An unprecedented one-two-three punch

The challenge is that in recent years the baseline has continued to move. First, the world and the reality of hundreds of millions of people working and learning from home were shaken by the global shutdowns by COVID 19 overnight. This change put immense pressure on data centers to handle high-bandwidth video and other cloud-based applications in a much more distributed area.

Then came worldwide supply chain disruptions and labor shortages, which made it difficult for data centers to develop additional capacity because they couldn’t find critical components or skilled people to install and run them.

And, more recently, global inflation and rising energy prices, exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine, have forced companies and nations to further reorganize their supply chains and make adjustments to continue operating with persistently high energy costs.

Keep in mind that these are just global events that are not even unique to the data center business. In addition, the growing social and commercial role of back-end data center processing and storage has presented many challenges.

Doing more, in more places, with less margin for error

Consider all the new applications that rely on capable and reliable data center support to operate. For example, there’s the mobile app ordering at your local restaurant, the high-speed robots in a warehouse that pick up your online order minutes after pressing «Checkout» and even the driver-assist-equipped vehicle in the next lane. The speed and volume of data generated, processed and transported by these applications and many others is growing exponentially. The world cannot afford downtime, whether the consequence is a delayed lunch order or compromising the overall efficiency of a 5G-connected driving assistance system.

Low-latency 5G is unlocking the bandwidth – and just as importantly, the low latency – that many of these amazing new applications require to operate. All of that is funneled to data centers, which are increasingly moving to the edge of the network to reduce those last precious milliseconds of response time reporter (RTR).

Energy efficiency to drive data center evolution by 2023

For all data center environments, efficiency is not so much a profitability metric as it is a survival metric. Whether it’s a small to mid-sized multi-tenant data center, a large cloud or hyperscale deployment, intense and simultaneous demand and cost pressures, particularly energy costs, will determine its future.

The conclusion is that data centers must increase the efficiency of their service delivery, using fiber and edge-based infrastructure, as well as machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). And at the same time, they must increase the efficiency of operations, and that means reducing energy use per unit of computing power.

Certainly, cost is the most obvious factor when weighing energy efficiency, but it is by no means the only one. Consider how customers and investors are increasingly attuned to how their corporate partners source and use their electricity. Some progressive metro areas are telling data centers that, in addition to there being concerns about appearance, noise and water usage, you don’t want your business starved for power. And in some cases, the area lacks available grid capacity to house them.

Looking ahead to 2023, when we fear headlines in Europe and elsewhere about rolling blackouts and insufficient heating, both regulatory and societal views will only move further away from data center developers. That is why it is so urgent that energy efficiency be given top priority and that data centers make critical upgrades such as:

  • Convert storage to the most efficient media, based on access time
  • Use detailed analytics to identify storage, compute and power consolidation opportunities
  • Implement ultra-efficient UPS systems
  • Re-evaluate thermal limits of own facility
  • Consider colocation for power and communications overhead sharing
  • Account for stress on existing power grid and switch to more sustainable, data center-located power

On a more strategic level, moving data centers to the edge of the network, connected by high-speed fiber, can improve energy efficiency and latency. Also, consider locations where there is access to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro and nuclear.

For larger cloud and hyperscale data centers, there is an opportunity to leverage localized power generation in various forms, to power the data center, and to feed back into the grid in the event of excess power.

Efficiency flows downstream

While many may never appreciate the broader social and commercial impact a data center has on the world, it’s worth remembering how quickly and robustly data storage and processing can improve all the most vital parts of our days and, indeed, our lives.

For example, every day, cloud-based services that enable data centers help to:

  • Employees to connect with each other to work efficiently from their homes, offices or while traveling
  • Farmers to plan, plant and harvest healthier crops while reducing water waste and chemical applications
  • Factories to build, store, manage and ship products with robotic labor that avoids countless workplace accidents and injuries
  • Ordinary people to create expressive user-generated content that connects people in a school or across the planet in games, social networks and the metaverse
  • Service providers to stream all types of entertainment and information content to homes, laptops and mobile devices in a seamless network of connectivity

All of these examples, and many others, demonstrate how much efficiency in our daily lives depends on data centers, and that shows how important energy efficiency will be for those data centers in 2023 and beyond.