From hardware to staffing, data centers have evolved significantly over the past year, in ways that will continue to affect IT teams now and in the future.
Data centers are playing an increasing role in the growing digital economy. Cloud and data center markets continue to mature as companies better understand their computing needs. Nearly 60% of business leaders said they are moving away from the public cloud in favor of colocation and private data centers in 2021, according to research from AFCOM, a provider of educational resources for data professionals.
AFCOM also reports that in 2021, more enterprises than in previous years have integrated automation and AI into their data center ecosystems to create more intelligent and autonomous systems. Distributed systems, multi-tenant and hyperscale configurations have also become more popular, while rack density has increased.
Data Center Hardware Advances
According to Synergy Research Group, Amazon, Microsoft and Google own more than 50% of the world’s largest data centers, with plans to expand. In 2021, Microsoft announced plans to expand its Azure datacenter regions globally by at least 50 datacenters each year.
Chipmakers including Intel, AMD, and Nvidia also rolled out new technologies in 2021. Intel launched its third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processors and AMD launched its third-generation Epyc Milan processors. Nvidia introduced an Arm-based data center processor, the Nvidia Grace processor. These processors have advanced the speed, agility, acceleration and performance of customers’ data center systems. However, Nvidia’s Grace processor, for example, won’t ship until 2023 at the earliest.
Increasing rack density in the modern data center has also become a bigger challenge in 2021. This increases power consumption and cooling costs, as well as the risk of failure due to power failure. A report by the Uptime Institute found that 43% of all data center outages in 2021 were caused by power issues. Data center teams need to keep an eye on the density and power utilization efficiency (PUE) on hardware devices.
Data Center Software Advances
The global pandemic has accelerated the need for data centers to rely less on human intervention. Data center personnel around the world have started using smarter, autonomous systems for simple tasks and have deployed distributed environments to increase automation capabilities.
As distributed architectures spread more rapidly across the landscape in 2021, data centers required new approaches to workloads, applications, and data delivery. Organizations have implemented state-of-the-art software and expanded data center infrastructure management software to include data-driven features, AI integration, and augmented reality.
To combat the growing impact of data centers on the environment, many facility owners have turned to new software to manage server utilization and performance. This software includes infrastructure management, virtualization, and container technologies to optimize server utilization, manage PUE, and monitor power consumption.
According to the Uptime Institute report, facility owners and cloud providers are following other industries in their efforts to monitor climate impact. Many facility owners and cloud service providers monitor their PUE because it is their most significant operational cost. Yet more than half don’t monitor their water usage, 33% don’t know their carbon footprint and a quarter don’t monitor the lifecycle of their e-waste.
Changes in the data center workplace
Following the rush to staff data centers at the start of the pandemic, even the most wary managers began to embrace remote monitoring tools and automated systems. Facilities teams and cloud providers have implemented artificial intelligence technology to simplify infrastructure management and reduce the number of on-site data center staff. For example, machines with locomotive capabilities can collect safety data through infrared devices, cameras, radar, thermal sensors and LiDAR.
Data center staffing has been a challenge in 2021. As part of their staffing efforts, data center managers have taken a close look at their staff demographics. Leaders continue to seek out the right talent to meet their growing business needs.
The pandemic has shown how critical it is to attract a younger, more diverse workforce. According to the AFCOM report, 90% of data center staff are 45 or older and 50% have been in the industry for 10 years or more. To continue to meet the needs of a digitally driven economy and workforce, more investment needs to be made in training and recruiting new employees. Otherwise, the industry could face a shrinking workforce and increased competition.