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Volta Data Centres Blog

Faster, smarter, and more important than ever

Posted by Volta Newsroom on 20-Apr-2017 09:00:00

One of my favourite data centre-relate stories concerns a certain UK government minister who, it is reported, asked the question: “With the Cloud taking over, what will happen to all the empty data centres?” The suggestion behind the question seemed to be that the world’s information would, somehow, hover in data clouds somewhere in the earth’s atmosphere and out we’d be able to access whatever we wanted, whenever and wherever we happened to be at the time.

Data Centre v Cloud.jpg

Substitute ‘data centre’ for ‘data clouds’ and that’s pretty much what the situation is becoming – all of our data is being housed in more and more data centres and, thanks to modern, robust, complex facilities and IT infrastructure, this data is available to us almost whenever and wherever we are. I say almost, because there are still some major connectivity challenges to be overcome – whether it’s the lack of a decent mobile signal in rather too many locations in the UK right now, or the somewhat bigger challenges facing the building out of physical infrastructure in the more remote parts of the planet (a data centre on the moon any time soon?).

Speed seems to be the number one driver that will impact the data centres of the future. 100G seems to be the objective right now, but you won’t be surprised to hear that that’s just a stepping stone on the way to 200 and 400G connectivity speeds coming our way by the early 2020s, if not before. Now, the cables that can ‘cope’ with these speeds are unlikely to be the ones sitting in the data centre right now. So, a major infrastructure refresh is going to be necessary.

Oh, and while the cables are being replaced, it’s probably as well to think about the cabinet and rack size/design. Readers won’t be surprised to hear that IT kit (servers and storage) are being designed ever denser and ever smaller, so the standard cabinets found in today’s data centres could become rather inefficient in terms of space usage in the not too distant future. Not to mention the cabinet design requirements that the Open Compute project generates…

And then we move on to the power side of things. Lithium ion batteries are already making significant inroads into the data centre space. And I’m pretty sure that I’ve read about at least one data centre’s power supply being generated via anaerobic digestion of waste materials. And data centres being situated by hydroelectric dams or having their power supplied by solar energy is almost standard practice in some parts of the world. And don’t forget the ‘resurgence’ in liquid-cooled servers (not sure that the liquid-cooled technology has reached the storage right now, but presumably it’s only a matter of time.)

Of course, modular data centre design has been with us for quite some time – although your definition of modular might differ significantly from mine. Nevertheless, the idea that a data centre can be built out a module at a time makes complete sense…unless one thinks that the open/commodity IT movement is going to become all prevalent. In which case, wouldn’t it make sense for the data centre to be pre-populated with standard x86 servers and standard storage boxes, which can be made live as and when, and on top of which each individual customer can run their software-defined environments, and then run their applications on top of these?

A crazy idea? But when one thinks that many data centre problems are the result of humans going inside the data centre – doesn’t it make more sense to kit out the data centre in one go with the standard components that everyone will be using? Okay, so that’s not very modular, but the chances of human error inside the data centre have just been reduced dramatically.

Eliminating human beings from the data centre would seem to be the number one priority. The lights-out data centre has been around for quite some time, and we have all read about the hyperscalers who have huge data centres, with one person being responsible for tens of thousands of servers. One or more server fails, and the IT load is redistributed across the other 30,000 or so machines, and someone makes the long journey through the data centre to repair or, more likely, simply rip and replace the errant servers.

So, intelligence is everything. Intelligent data centre operation, to make sure that the facilities and IT infrastructures are operating in an optimised, harmonious fashion. Intelligence to monitoring the infrastructure in real-time; intelligence to analyse this monitoring data, to try and spot any potential problems. Artificial intelligence, neural networks, IoT – whatever you want to call it – this will come to know your data centre so closely that the possibility of an ‘internal’ problem will be all but eliminated. And suggestions about how to improve your data centre usage will be an added bonus.

As for resilience – I suspect that the centralised/distributed IT environment will run and run. After all, the recent trend to consolidate everything into fewer and fewer, more centralised data centres is now under attack from the edge computing phenomenon – bring the data closer to where it is needed. I suspect that Neanderthal husband and wife wrestled with the same problem – one cave or many caves!

And we end as we started – with Cloud computing. The reality is that, whether we’re forced to by all the software manufacturers who won’t sell us ‘hard’ copies of their programmes anymore, but insist we rent them, or we simply find the idea of someone supplying us all out IT needs for one monthly bill (as with our other utility bills) extremely compelling.

What does all this have to do with the colocation market? Well, it might be an idea to ask any potential data centre supplier/colo provider for a sight of both their technology and business model roadmaps, to ensure that they have some knowledge of what’s around the corner and are planning for the likely facility and IT changes required. The response to this question will tell you everything you might need to know about an organisation who you are going to trust with your prizes possession – your company’s data.

 

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