Data Center World 2024: The Sessions I Don’t Want to Miss

DCK contributor Drew Robb breaks down his most anticipated DWC sessions, including ones that will discuss the real-world impact of AI, evolving power and cooling options, and the skills gap.

Drew Robb

April 9, 2024

8 Min Read
dcw 2023 registration desk from above
Data Center World

Data Center World 2024 is almost upon us. I’ll be there all week and will hardly have a moment to spare. I wish cloning technology had evolved more as there are time slots when three great sessions are happening simultaneously, and I can only make it to one of them. Between the keynotes, the panels, and breakouts sessions, there is something for everyone.

I’m particularly looking forward to the following sessions:

Don’t Miss the Keynotes

The keynotes, of course, are a must-see. Tuesday morning kicks off at 8.30 a.m. ET with insights from Jennifer Majernik Huffstetler of Intel and Chuck Gilbert of AMD. They will discuss the latest advancements in AI algorithms and GPU architectures, how to drive performance improvements while boosting energy efficiency in data centers, and how infrastructure must be modernized to support burgeoning AI workloads. These are areas I regularly hear analysts highlight as being among the most important trends impacting the data center market.

“As more power is dedicated to AI, the share of worldwide electricity in the data center will rise to about 2% within a couple of years,” said Vladimir Galabov, Research Director of Cloud and Data Center at Omdia.  

There are a couple of other keynotes I’m keen to see. On Wednesday morning, Dr. Kathryn Huff, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, will explore the role of nuclear technologies in complementing solar and wind power. Later that day, Nancy Novak of Compass Datacenters and Phanney Kim Brevard of ETAP will explain the next evolution in supply chain partnerships. Ali Fenn, President of Lancium, anchors the Thursday morning keynote by addressing grid reliability at gigawatt scale while facilitating carbon-free data centers.

Related:US Energy Experts to Present Latest Insights at Data Center World 2024

Tuesday: AI, Edge Computing, Cooler Chips, and Alleviating Grid Stress

The keynotes are only the tip of the Data Center World content iceberg. Tuesday is a big problem for me as it is jammed with great content that I don’t want to miss. The morning includes a panel examining whether the hype around edge data centers is fading and how AI might impact the edge market. Jeffery Martin of Ascent, Mark Gusakov of the Nomad Futurist Foundation, Hugh Carspecken of Ubiquity Edge, Cole Crawford of, and Jonathan Eaves of Edge Centres are sure to make this a lively panel. It will be followed by what I believe may be one of the highlights of the whole event – a session about ARP-E’s COOLERCHIPS. This federal program is developing transformational, highly efficient, and reliable cooling technologies for data centers. Program Director Peter de Bock and two associates from the Department of Energy are coming to update us on the latest research and breakthroughs in chip and cooling efficiency.

Related:The World's Most Unusual and Unique Data Centers

Tuesday afternoon is just as interesting. With Loudon County possessing the highest data center density in the world, we get a chance to hear from Buddy Rizer, Executive Director of the county’s Economic Development Department, about a bring-your-own-power (BYOP) concept that aims to alleviate stress on local grids. Speakers from Vertiv and Compass Data Centers will add their perspective on the kinds of data centers that would benefit most from BYOP, as well as the benefits, challenges, and technologies surrounding BYOP.

The afternoon continues with a panel on how microgrids can replace diesel for backup generation. Speakers from Compass Data Centers, Enchanted Rock, and Vantage Data Centers will explore the use of microgrids to lower emissions and make progress toward sustainability targets. Following that, I’ll be heading over to hear from Burns & McDonnell and Quality Technology Services, who will cover how microgrids can deliver a consistent power supply and the metrics that should be used to evaluate sustainability benefits when transitioning from conventional diesel systems to microgrid solutions.

My Tuesday wouldn’t be complete without hearing more about cooling innovations – this time related to the intense heat generated by powering AI. That is the subject of a talk from Phill Lawson-Shanks of Aligned Data Centers. He will review cooling technologies that can handle the heat without breaking the bank or upsetting sustainability commitments. Anyone walking the aisles of the exhibit hall is sure to see plenty of vendors offering solutions to AI’s rack-density challenges.

“With the rapid expansion of high-density compute [power], we are expecting to see substantial adoption of liquid cooling,” said Simon Brady, Liquid Cooling Product Manager, Vertiv. “Hyperscalers are looking to deploy liquid cooling solutions rapidly and at scale to keep up with their needs and they are redesigning their builds to reflect this change.” 

Wednesday: Grid Integration, Collaboration, Nuclear Power, the Skills Gap, and Recovering From a Disaster

After the Wednesday keynote, grid integration and utility collaboration take center stage. Experts from Cumulus Data, Compass Data Centers, Enchanted Rock and EdgeCore Digital Infrastructure will confront the realities of a U.S. data center market where demand is likely to reach 35 GW by 2030, up from 17 GW in 2022. Microgrids, distributed energy resources (DERs), and other potential solutions must navigate a complex matrix of engineering challenges. The speakers will explain the challenges and uncover opportunities on how to achieve energy sustainability and reliability.

“It is critical that teams work together to support data centers and other HPC applications which are more and more the heart of the business,” said Brady. “And that means understanding and recognizing the opportunities and challenges on both sides.”

A Wednesday afternoon session from James Monek of Lehigh University promises to be yet another gem. It is rare that someone is willing to walk event attendees through the specifics of a serious data center incident. Monek will detail how he received a 5 a.m. call about a fire in the data center that led to an emergency power down and halon gas being dumped on his data center equipment. He’ll go through the lessons learned, how incident management and BC/DR processes performed, and what was done to get all services back online rapidly. Too many organizations wish to only present a picture of rosy perfection. It will be refreshing to hear from Monek on how his organization navigated such a difficult situation.

The afternoon continues with a talk on integrating nuclear energy into data centers by experts at Idaho National Laboratory. Nuclear is unlikely to gain any traction in the data center unless government labs can demonstrate that it is a cost-effective, safe and easy-to-implement solution. Another afternoon panel on how to attract tomorrow’s talent via education and internships is yet another session I don’t want to miss. Speakers from Banner Health, Stack Infrastructure, QTS Data Centers, Gateview Technologies, and Nomad Futurist Foundation will delve into the root causes of the labor shortage and its implications on the stability and growth of data center operations. They will explore the evolving skills and expertise needed to narrow the talent gap via educational collaboration and internships for the younger generation. Survey after survey finds talent acquisition and the finding of training AI resources to be among the biggest challenges facing data centers.

“With AI accelerating disruption at an unprecedented pace, the need for workforce training has never been more obvious and consequential,” said Orla Daly, Chief Information Officer at Skillsoft. “Organizations are at a critical point where they need to be deliberate and proactive about building skills and capabilities – especially related to AI – or risk falling behind in the coming year.”

While some only come to Data Center World for a couple of days, the program for Thursday should be strong enough to tempt many to add an extra night to their stay. Immediately following the Thursday keynote, energy and environmental policy experts from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will present their initial conclusions from the updated "United States Data Center Energy Usage Report." They will point out how these latest findings differ from the previous report done in 2016 and explain the impact of AI, edge computing, and rapidly growing data demand in an increasingly interconnected world.

Following that panel, hot-button issues like sustainability and net-zero are discussed by experts from Aligned Data Centers, PowerHouse Data Centers, Corgan, and the Green Build Initiative. They will debate the many factors that play into sustainability in the face of a rapidly changing data center landscape. In addition, they will provide insight into the driving factors that compel data centers to be more sustainable, identify the best strategies for decarbonization, and lay out construction tactics that contribute to sustainability, health, and resilience.

As the show winds down, the sustainability theme continues with a mid-afternoon session by construction and rental specialists from Turner Construction and United Rentals. They will answer pressing questions:

  • How exactly should data centers transition to greener practices?

  • How can Scope 3 carbon emissions be reduced?

  • How can real-time reporting dashboards be used to ensure transparency while harnessing the power of data for informed carbon footprint reduction strategies?

That’s my plan for the week. I hope to meet some of you at these sessions. 

About the Author(s)

Drew Robb

Drew Robb has been a full-time professional writer and editor for more than twenty years. He currently works freelance for a number of IT publications.

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