How the Data Center Industry Is Supporting Digital Transformation in 2019

The latest AFCOM State of the Data Center report is out.

Bill Kleyman

April 15, 2019

7 Min Read
Panel, mainframe

It’s really inspiring to see just how far we’ve come. There are more mobile users, new services and applications, and digital solutions vastly impacting the way we go about our everyday lives. Between cloud, edge and the data center, our world has become truly always-on and persistently connected. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen previews of 5G solutions, the introduction of edge compute systems, advanced cloud architectures and vastly improved data center management platforms. This is why it’s exciting to review the results of the latest AFCOM State of the Data Center report. In the third edition of our report, we explore how much has changed since our first study in 2014-15. What seems like just a short time ago is an eternity when you look at how far data center technology has come.

Our Respondents and Their Value

This year’s report saw some interesting respondent profiles. Nearly 40 percent of the organizations they work for have more than 1,000 employees, and the same percentage were all classified as international business leaders. Of the respondents, about 50 percent were in some type of management role, including 27 percent with C-level titles.

When it comes to data center professionals and certifications, it’s clear that the respondents have been taking their tests. Three in four respondents (75 percent) hold at least one certification, most commonly in software management, applications or operations (36 percent) and/or virtualization, storage, networking or hardware (36 percent). This indicates that our data centers are being pushed even further into the digital realm as applications, cloud and virtualization all play key roles in the evolution of data centers.

The big point is that this year’s report saw a wide array of people from all walks of the data center, cloud and digital world.

When it comes to new digital solutions, organizations are now firmly leveraging advanced digital options to impact customers and their industry segment. This means multicloud, hybrid architectures, new advancements around data-driven solutions, and, most of all, bringing all of this closer to the user. The key aspect of this report is that the data center is truly at the center of all these technological evolutionary points. It’s at the heart of digital transformation, the heart of cloud and the heart of today’s data-driven market.

New Requirements are Fueling Growth Around Edge and the Data Center

One key challenge in the data center market will be to differentiate between the hype and those data center providers that are truly plugged into the digital transformation we’re experiencing. Another important point is that none of this is slowing down. A recent report by JLL pointed to the skyrocketing demand for data centers (something our findings indicate as well), sparking a revolution in our industry. That revolution is fueling data centers that are more efficient, are capable of hyperscale designs and can support the most complex workloads. As JLL’s report points out, the global data center industry is in position to meet increased demands and even navigate economic uncertainty. An interesting and consistent finding from our report centers around trends in data center facilities and growth. In fact, respondents expect meaningful increases in all data center measures over the next three years.

Data center growth looks to be mostly on the upswing across the board. As the report indicates:

  • Already, the average number of data centers per organization (including remote sites and edge) is about 12. This will increase to 13 over the next 12 months and jump to nearly 17 over the next three years.

  • Respondents indicated that more than four data centers will be built over the course of the next 12 months and nearly five more over the course of three years. This is in line with our second-edition report.

Digital Is Driving Data Center and Cloud Architectures

Remember, the biggest cloud providers in the world are also data center companies. As cloud becomes one of the core pieces of a digital strategy, hyperscale data centers sit at the heart of the cloud. All major indicators show that cloud has become a key strategy for businesses. Most of all, hybrid and multicloud solutions are offering organizations a lot of capabilities to compete in a digital market.

The results are fascinating. Cloud computing saw the biggest jump in terms of what organizations are doing to meet data center service needs. In fact, within the next 12 months, respondents are most likely to meet data center service needs via the cloud (58 percent). Within the next three years, respondents are equally likely to meet their needs via cloud (48 percent), new builds (45 percent) and expanding capacity in existing data centers.

Why is this happening? Our infrastructures are supporting some of the most advanced solutions on the market. Data centers are now home to artificial intelligence engines, vast cloud ecosystems, blockchain solutions, advanced connectivity architectures, high-performance computing platforms, and more. As we look to 2020 and beyond, we’ll see an evolution of the data center, one that takes us beyond “simple” virtual machines and workloads. The data center will become the heart of your digital transformation.

In Digital Transformation, Cloud Isn’t Always the Answer

Cloud has certainly been a resonating topic for many technology and business leaders. When it comes to cloud deployment specifically, over the next 12 months respondents are by far most likely to implement a private cloud (73 percent), followed by public (64 percent) and hybrid models (59 percent).

An interesting trend was that 71 percent of respondents said they saw organizations moving away from public cloud and looking to colo or private data centers, including 23 percent who said this happens “constantly.” In our previous study, we saw more than 58 percent say they’re seeing this consistently or occasionally.

A key point here is that cloud is not replacing the data center. Rather, it complements data center solutions.

Looking Ahead, Your Data Center Is the Differentiator in a Digital World

As you take this all in, it’s critical to broaden your perspectives on how to define a data center ecosystem. Beyond offering a rack and some power, real leaders in the industry will become technology partners and not just providers of space. This will be the key differentiator in our digital world, where the business defines the data center and helps create some of the most powerful competitive advantages in the market.

We are all walking, talking, data-generating engines and in a data-driven world. We are presented with an always-on, constantly connected scenario. Data not only needs to support these new initiatives, it must become a part of the revolution.

In our study, we asked what data center leaders are doing to leverage new and innovative solutions aimed at improving data center efficiency while still delivering new capabilities to the customer. We found four solutions leading the charge, with data analytics and big data being the top two. In fact, 70 percent of respondents said they’re either already leveraging data analytics or will do so over the next 12 months. Nearly 60 percent said they’re using big data solutions now or will use them over the next year. The other two major initiatives were machine learning (46 percent) and AI (42 percent).

Beyond the business, what drives the data center evolution is you. You are the users, the engineers, the business professionals, the cooling experts, the power gurus and the facilities professionals who will need to look beyond your own role to see the big picture of the next-generation “digital” data center. Our racks are getting smarter and more integrated, data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions are leveraging data and even AI-based algorithms, and we’re pushing our data center designs further to the edge.

Be sure to download the latest AFCOM State of the Data Center report, where we examine the evolution of our industry and just how far we’ve come from our first study. You’ll learn about:

  • Trends in data center facilities

  • Meeting data center service needs

  • Greatest concerns when implementing cloud

  • DCIM implementation plans

  • Data center technology implementation plans

  • Investment in renewable energy

  • Recruitment challenges: Specific personnel

  • Young data center professionals in the workforce

  • Most sought-after cloud competencies

  • Personnel needs for 2019

As digital becomes the new normal, the State of the Data Center report can act as your guide to leverage new solutions, impact your users and keep pace with our ever-evolving industry.

AFCOM members can read the entire 2019 State of the Data Center Report here.

To gain access to the report, to learn more about AFCOM or to join the association, visit here.

About the Author(s)

Bill Kleyman

Bill Kleyman has more than 15 years of experience in enterprise technology. He also enjoys writing, blogging, and educating colleagues about tech. His published and referenced work can be found on Data Center Knowledge, AFCOM, ITPro Today, InformationWeek, NetworkComputing, TechTarget, DarkReading, Forbes, CBS Interactive, Slashdot, and more.

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