One of the cool parts of the digital revolution has been our work to give analog devices a digital footprint. This involves manufacturing, healthcare, automotive, power, and the data center.
With that comes a new concept as we evolve traditional systems into the digital age—digital twins. You may have heard of digital twins, but how do they apply to data center solutions? And do they already exist in the wild?
It's Like Your Twin but Digital
A digital twin is a virtual or digital representation of a physical asset, object, or manufacturing process. Its intended purpose is to continuously learn and provide data insights around vast operations.
Let's use GE as an example. In 2017, GE announced that more than 800,000 digital twins of jet engines, locomotives, power generation equipment, and more are already helping GE and customers to make their machines and processes more productive.
Today, these digital twins continue to be based on operational data of components (pumps or compressors), critical assets (turbines), or systems of assets (an entire power station). In terms of savings relating to operations and maintenance, GE has saved its customers $1.6 billion through digital twins' real-time monitoring capabilities. It has also grown its digital twin footprint to include over 1.2 million digital twins of jet engines, wind farms, off-shore oil rigs, power generation equipment, pumps, compressors, chillers, and more.
And it's not like this sector is slowing down. The latest research from Gartner indicates that the digital twin market will cross the chasm in 2026 to reach $183 billion in revenue by 2031, with composite digital twins presenting the most significant opportunity. Product leaders must build ecosystems and libraries of prebuilt functions and vertical market templates to remain competitive.
You can leverage information, data sciences, and robust systems to enable digital twins of supply chain management, factory processes, and inventory management. So, for example, your digital twin, coupled with the data and the applications that support it, can help make tens of thousands of decisions required every year across the vast supply chain and factory operations.
"The adoption of, and hype around, digital twins is growing," said Roy Schulte, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "Digital twins are the next step in the Internet of Things (IoT) driven world, where CIOs increasingly leverage IoT technologies in their digital business journey."
Digital Twins in the Data Center: DCIM Takes the Lead!
Over the past few years, I've had the chance to work closely with various DCIM solutions. The ones making giant waves are the solutions evolving data from real-time reporting to predictive and prescriptive architecture. Let me give you a specific example.
At the 2022 AFCOM Data Center World event in Austin, we had a packed session for our DCIM workshop. During our workshop, we tried to do something different by illustrating the power of digital twins and how data-driven solutions impact data center management. And we did all of this while showcasing new and advanced technologies, like AI, machine learning, and virtual realities.
In the image below, we had a volunteer, Linda, come up and demo a complete VR experience of a live data hall.
She came up, put on that headset, and easily navigated the digital twin data hall within five minutes.
The point is that the evolution of digital twins, data modeling, and virtual reality has come a long way. And it's being applied in DCIM. Interestingly, DCIM has become a digital twin's best friend. DCIM solutions, used by some of the most prominent vendors in the industry, are designed to add intelligence to the data center. Now, this intelligence is expanding by leveraging dynamic solutions to derive actionable information about equipment locations, connectivity points, power usage, and power capacity. With this information, organizations can identify areas for ongoing optimization of data center operations.
Digital twins can also reduce outages. According to the Uptime Institute's 2022 Outage Analysis, the consequences and cost of downtime are worsening, with 60% of failures now resulting in at least $100,000 in total losses. It also found that when significant outages happen, over 85% of the incidents stem from staff failing to follow procedures or flaws in the processes themselves. IDC estimates that human error costs organizations more than $62.4 million annually. A significant part of errors created by humans is because of tedious tasks and manual processes.
Leveraging digital twins throughout the data center's lifecycle can drastically reduce human error and outages by helping operators better understand their ecosystem. Our data centers are complex machines; we need better tools to help design and operate these facilities. I'm excited to see how digital twins can positively impact our critical systems.
Digital Twins: Business Considerations
Let's start with some benefits: lower operating costs, optimized performance, better utilization of capital expenditures, and extending the life of the physical object around which the digital twin is modeled. Ultimately, this helps organizations gain more insights and drive better decisions around processes and operations. It also makes your tenants and customers much happier knowing you use data to optimize their systems.
With all of this in mind, let's pivot and ask an honest question: Are you ready for digital twins, and do you need them? When looking at digital twins, keep the following in mind:
- Keep it simple. You need to define and identify your use case very clearly. Know which physical object you're trying to define, know where processes are wrapped around it all, and understand how a digital twin will impact this. Remember, you are introducing new technology and more data into your environment. So, you need to know how to use it. The last thing you want is a digital twin which introduces unnecessary complexity or is just overkill for your project.
- Make sure you're ready for a digital twin. Processing this much data will require you to look at your data center and compute capabilities. Ensure your organization has an element of readiness to take on this type of project. This means ensuring wireless systems are up to par, that your data center can process this data, and that you have strategies to process the output and help you make better business decisions. Enabling a digital twin is a multi-step process involving several business, user, and technology components. DCIM solutions have done a great job ingesting and aggregating much of this data. If you're unsure, maybe use DCIM as your launching platform.
- Align your business and process with your digital twin. This is a truly delicate process. Digital twins provide powerful insights into the business and the process which supports your entire organization. You can change how you do supply chain management and asset control, enabling better consumer initiatives. However, you won't get far if there are still gaps in the process today or your business isn't aligned. You'll need to develop metrics around success factors so that a digital twin isn't just a cost center. Rather, it's a tool to help evolve your business and improve your competitive market stance.
- Keep in mind—more data means more risk. When you create a digital twin, you generate more data that must be mined, correlated, and understood. However, this data is not benign, and it's just as valuable to the bad guys as it is to you. When creating digital twins, ensure you have best practices for security in mind. In some situations, you'll need to plan around security, data integrity, privacy, and even compliance. Protect your data and allow it to work for you to gain the most significant benefits from a digital twin.
An interesting report from GE pointed out that by combining data and advanced data science, organizations and industry leaders build a digital twin—a digital model representing deep profile characteristics—of every targeted piece of physical technology, initiative, and user. You can use these technologies to change and improve the lives of your organization's consumers or physical assets. However, don't over-complicate it! Work with your partner to ensure that digital twins are right for your data center and business and that they will simplify overall operations.