Data centre growth around the world is booming and business is on the cusp of a revolution, said Sanjay Kumar Sainani, SVP & CTO of Huawei’s Global Data Center Business.
Sainani, who has 30 years of experience with data centres, said that there are a few major trends emerging specifically in the segment of data centre facilities.
Firstly, there has been an overall surge in growth of digital activity. Around the world, people are simply consuming and generating orders of magnitude more data and traffic than they were just a few years ago. Safe cities, smart cities, and e-government initiatives are further adding to the data growth.
“We do everything with apps — shopping, buying take-aways, and calling cabs,” said Sainani. Smart machines and the Internet of Things adds to the data growth with machine-to-machine communication.
“In fact, in 2018, for the first time, data generated from M2M exceeded that from humans,” Sainani said. “This resulted in a huge growth of IT infrastructure.”
Secondly, businesses and consumers are migrating to buying IT as services—from software as a service (SaaS) to ITaaS.
Software that was previously installed on-premises is now being offered through the cloud. This is creating a huge opportunity for developers to bring their software to the cloud. Additionally, companies that migrate to cloud services find that they no longer need large on-premises data centres.
“Add to this the growth of technologies like big data, artificial intelligence, and 5G,” said Sainani.
He said that these trends are resulting in massive amounts of IT and network infrastructure being deployed — all of it in data centre facilities.
“Given the huge investment demands for IT and network infrastructure, businesses do prefer to make use of data centre facilities-as-a-service,” Sainani said. “This is fuelling the growth of colocation data centres.”
Data sovereignty and data privacy laws are also having an impact on data centre growth. This legislation aims to ensure that personal, private, and other sensitive data resides within the country.
“Until not so long ago, data was being stored in hyperscale data centres across the globe,” said Sainani. “However, governments have realised the issues of data security and data privacy, leading to new data sovereignty legislation being passed in many countries. This will lead to data centre growth around the world, including in Africa.”
Modern data centre design
Sainani explained that modern data centres are designed and built quite differently from just a few years ago.
“If you were to ask an IT manager what systems he needs in three or four years, he’ll tell you that he doesn’t know. They can’t know what new technology will be available,” he said.
The people designing data centres don’t have that luxury — they have had to find ways to try and plan for the unplannable.
“You have to plan your data centre facility to be relatively future-proof, to be flexible and scalable,” said Sainani. Another key demand is energy and water efficiency, as data centres now typically consume many megawatts of power.
To make a data centre flexible and scalable, Sainani said that Huawei offers the Fusion Module platform. This allows the data centre facility to be designed and built in a modular way.
“Systems such as power, cooling, and racking have been modular for a while,” he said. “Now we’re even making the building as modular.”
Building enclosures are prefabricated and pre-fitted, allowing up to 70% of the data centre building and fit-outs to be done at Huawei’s factories. This happens while the foundations for the data centre are being dug and other civil works are being finalised on-site.
With the fabrication of building enclosures and civil works happening in parallel, the time to construct a data centre is slashed in half, said Sainani.
To ensure they comply with all the relevant building, electrical, and safety codes, Huawei still employs local consulting firms.
“In the Middle-East region we are currently building one of these data centres for a client,” Sainani said. “It’s a 600-rack, 12 megawatt data centre and the time-to-market is 14 months.”
These turnkey data centres include all engineering, procurement, and construction. Huawei has already built 60 to 70 megawatts of such turnkey data centres for clients.
Data centre revolution
Artificial Intelligence and 5G are opening the doors for new futuristic applications, including holographic meetings, autonomous vehicles, and remote surgical facilities. All of this will demand lower latency, which Sainani said is fuelling another new trend in data centres — edge computing.
“We will see a very different model in future,” Sainani said.
Mobile network operators will roll out greater computing power to cell sites in the next few years, with their base stations doubling up as edge data centres,
With the advent of 5G, operators are also expected to double the number of sites in their network to ensure full 5G coverage of their existing client base.
Managing such a vast network of micro data centres will require intelligent management software and sensors that can help detect issues before they arise.
Olfactory sensors and cameras can be combined with machine learning to smell or see a pool of oil that has formed near a generator. The olfactory sensors can also be trained to smell things like burning grease, said Sainani.
“We have invested significantly in artificial intelligence in Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM),” Sainani said.
Smart DCIM gives the ability to manage all the elements in a data centre while automatically adjusting variables to improve efficiency.
“This is like having someone with decades of experience adjusting the cooling and power distribution in the data centre as needed,” said Sainani.
The DCIM platform will also highlight where maintenance should be conducted, such as replacing batteries or power supply units when they go below a certain performance threshold.
“This is predictive maintenance, instead of preventive maintenance,” Sainani said.