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Future Facilities 2021 Predictions: The Top Trends Shaping Data Centers in 2021

vmblog 2021 prediction series 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2021.  Read them in this 13th annual VMblog.com series exclusive.

The Top Trends Shaping Data Centers in 2021

By Sherman Ikemoto, Managing Director at Future Facilities

2020 has been a difficult year for many industries. With travel greatly restricted, non-essential shops ordered to shut and events cancelled or moved to being online, many sectors have been hit hard as activities slowed down. However, that is not the case for all. As online communication for work and entertainment becomes more important than ever before, data centers have been under incredible strain to ensure the digital world can support this increased demand.

In 2021, the strain and importance of the data center is only going to increase as the pandemic, growth of cloud and emergence of new technologies such as AI and 5G take hold. With data centers and the role they play in keeping us connected growing in importance in 2021, it is time to take stock of the big trends that are set to shape this key industry. As we head into a new year, here are some of the key trends we think data center owners and operators need to look out for in 2021.

2021 Data Center Trends

  • Liquid cooling: Liquid cooling has been predicted to replace air cooling for some time, but 2021 is the year widespread adoption begins. In fact, according to Report Linker, by 2024 the data center liquid cooling market is set to be worth $3.2 billion as it grows at a CAGR of 22.6%. The accelerated shift to liquid cooling will be driven by two main factors. Firstly as high-density computing tasks such as AI processing increase in adoption, the limits of air cooling will be reached. Going forward, new data center designs will need to include liquid cooling to ensure they are future-proofed to handle ever-increasing high-density technologies.

The second factor is the use of data center Digital Twin technologies. Digital Twins create an identical replica of a data center to use for simulation, that allows designers and operators to test out different setups and scenarios in a safe environment ahead of real-world deployments. By using a Digital Twin to optimize the set up of liquid cooling, businesses can unlock even more value from their data centers without needing to invest in additional cooling solutions.

  • Neural networks: Neural networks will also play a role in shaping data centers too. The explosive growth of AI and neural network usage is pushing hardware designs and architectures into new directions. Chip designs such as Nvidia will continue to thrive but only if the latest designs can maintain performance even when being pushed to their thermal limits. Modelling these designs will be crucial in unlocking additional growth and keeping pace with customer demands.
  • Digitalization of the data center: 2021 will see data centers become more digital than they ever have before. With the global pandemic making in-person site visits harder to do, processes such as compliance testing will become virtual. Offering the ability to reduce costs too, the switch to virtual compliance testing will likely continue after the pandemic too. In addition, the usage of tools such as the Digital Twin to add with center management will be the norm as decisions increasingly are made based on empirical evidence from simulations rather than the traditional rule of thumb approach.
  • Cloud and edge transformation: The shift to the cloud will continue in 2021 as businesses look to reap the rewards on offer such as a lower CAPEX cost and flexibility. According to CCS Insight, by the end of the year, it is predicted that half of all large firms will have more than 50% of their applications in the public cloud, up from 20% in 2019.

The emergence of 5G too will accelerate the shift towards edge computing as businesses look to make the most of the low latency that the new technology provides. The growth of edge computing will see increased applications of computing as a service in 2021, as businesses tap into the resources now on offer. This is likely to be particularly exciting for consumers too as services such as gaming shift to the cloud. For data center designers, there will be new challenges in mapping cooling, power and networking that will need to be solved in 2021 to allow edge computing to go mainstream.

  • Growth of hyperscalers: Much like edge data centers, hyperscalers will also continue to grow their footprint at pace in 2021 as they scale up and out. This will lead to increased interest in their impact on the environment and local human populations too by operators, local authorities and governments alike. With the number and size of data centers only going to increase over the next decade, understanding their impact will become an important area of study in 2021.
  • Environmental concerns: With the UK and incoming US governments already making it clear that the environment and green business are high on their agendas, further incentives and regulations for businesses to be more sustainable are set to arrive over the next four years. For software-based businesses, this will bring a renewed focus on the data centers they use and the efficiency they achieve. Focusing on improving efficiencies, switching to green power and identifying innovative ways to use waste heat will be top priorities for businesses looking to stay compliant with future regulations and reducing operating costs.

Already the EU has begun the process of setting out environmental legislation for the cloud, with its recently completed study into policy and technical options to curb energy usage in data centers being published. While a tax on data centers based on their efficiency and energy usage is unlikely to appear in 2021, the fact that it is being discussed at all shows the direction that law and policymakers are heading in.

In 2021 then, forward-thinking businesses will not wait for new regulations to arrive and instead will accelerate their plans to improve efficiencies within their data centers. Initial steps in this process will be through the optimization of the layout of a data center and switching to green energy suppliers. In years to come, we will see 2021 as the year the data center industry turned green.

  • The Internet of Behaviors (IoB): Data collection and analytics will step up a gear in 2021 as the emergence of the Internet of Behaviours (IoB) arrives. The IoB captures the "digital dust" of people's lives from a variety of sources, and that information can be used by public or private entities to influence behavior. The data can come from a range of sources, from commercial customer data to social media to facial recognition. However, the collection and analysis of this data will place added pressure on data center infrastructure. Managing this pressure and ensuring data centers operate at an optimum level will be key in making the IoB a reality.
  • IT system architecture convergence: The next phase of hyper-converged infrastructure and high-performance computing will see an integration between the two systems. Once completed, data center owners and operators will be able to benefit from cost reductions and performance enhancements. By breaking down the silos and the layers between design and IT systems, businesses will be able to operate more efficiently than they ever have done before. Expect to see further research in 2021 on the integration of computing, networking and storage with additional layers of architecture for a full chip to chiller approach.

While 2020 has been a transformational year, with long-lasting implications for the data center industry, 2021 is set to be just as important. To stay ahead of these trends, data center owners and operators will need to ensure their data centers are running at optimal levels and deliver the efficiencies now needed. The combination of new technologies, evolving business models and the key role of data centers will make 2021 a real milestone for the industry.

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About the Author

Sherman Ikemoto

Future Facilities is the provider of the Digital Twin for data center design and operational management. As the managing director of Future Facilities, Sherman leads sales, marketing and engineering services for the Americas. He is a member of ASHRAE, the Green Grid, AFCOM, Uptime Symposium and the Center for Energy Smart Electronics Systems (ES2). Ikemoto is leading the market education effort at Future Facilities to establish the concept of a Data Center Digital Twin - a 3D, virtual replica of the physical data center - as a standard platform for data center design and management.

Published Monday, December 28, 2020 6:49 AM by David Marshall
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Future Facilities 2021 Predictions: The Top Trends Shaping Data Centers in 2021 - 11 Finance - (Author's Link) - December 28, 2020 9:15 AM
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