Insight and analysis on the data center space from industry thought leaders.

Data Centers in a Post-Pandemic World

Put to the test, data centers have demonstrated that they put “essential” in essential services. So, what's next?

Chris Crosby

May 26, 2020

5 Min Read
Panel, mainframe

chris crosby compass mug.jpg

chris crosby compass mug

Chris Crosby is CEO Compass Datacenters

The novel coronavirus has put the US and the world to the test. It has tested the capacity of the healthcare system to treat an influx of patients, the efficiency of supply chains to deliver everything from COVID-19 testing to toilet paper, the resourcefulness of manufacturers to pivot and produce ventilators, and our ability to stay home and remain productive.

Data centers have certainly been put to the test during this pandemic and demonstrated that they put “essential” in essential services by successfully delivering the capacity to make working, learning, exercising, grocery shopping, socializing, having doctor’s appointments, attending church, and being entertained – all from home – a reality.

This season of social distancing has illuminated our ability to connect with one another, work, and learn effectively from remote locations. We’ve tested and realized the effectiveness and benefits of doing most things virtually. At the risk of sounding dramatic, this highlights something that every generation learns: the world never stays the same.

Some of the changes made to accommodate social distancing will stick. It’s just common sense. Why waste time, energy, and overhead on travel to a physical office or a client’s site, when those minutes or hours could be spent in a productive way? Same goes for doctor visits and learning – these things don’t have to happen face-to-face. There is certainly high value in breaking bread to deepen a relationship, but does the doctor really need to see you for that next prescription refill?

Related:The Pandemic Puts the Internet’s Resiliency – and Fragility – On Display

Usage of cloud platforms and data-intensive applications was already on the rise and has surged during the pandemic. So, what’s next? Where do we go from here? What does the post-pandemic future look like for data centers?

Growing Demand

Before the pandemic, the analyst firm Gartner forecasted the cloud computing and services industry would reach nearly $300 billion by 2021, up from $175.8 billion in 2018, with software as a service (SaaS) leading the growth. In the same forecast, SaaS was expected to grow from $72.2 billion in 2018 to $113.1 billion in 2021.

In a post-pandemic world, demand for SaaS solutions will be even higher to support an increasingly distributed workforce. SaaS, once considered tools for small or medium-sized businesses, is gaining traction with large enterprise customers. An expanded customer base means new capital, more competition and innovation – and, not to mention, increased demand for data center capacity. Many SaaS providers will start to look like today’s big cloud companies, using strategically located data centers to deliver better coverage to a growing customer base.

Related:Rules Rewritten: Managing Data Centers Through the Pandemic

Cloud Companies Evolving Size and Geography

Traditional cloud providers will power up. Going forward, 100MW will be the power-capacity starting point for hyperscale operators like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. To feed their appetite responsibly, these mega players will increasingly invest in renewable energy sources and bring power sources closer to the new data centers.

Much has been said of enterprises abandoning ownership of data centers and farming it out to public cloud providers like the aforementioned hyperscalers. But the fact is, growth of distributed workforces will generate even more sensitive data that cannot be put at risk. Security concerns will ensure enterprise data centers won’t going away. The need for security and the advanced age of existing facilities will combine to slow the decline in enterprise data center construction.

New centers will initially pop up in proven and predictable places like Northern Virginia, Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, and the Bay Area. There’s ample power in these Tier I markets, space to build, accessible network infrastructure, and established tax incentives. However, we can also expect burgeoning demand in Tier II and III markets, since they offer space to accommodate larger data centers and cost savings opportunities versus major metro areas. They are also logical destinations for increasingly distributed networks.

The national and global bandwidth demands generated during the self-quarantine period show that the time is ripe for rapid growth in edge data centers as well. The resulting business and societal changes will only exacerbate the need for more capacity. Look for telcos and cable companies to lead the way, leveraging edge data centers to extend the life of networks and add capacity without big capital outlays, with SaaS and CDN providers quickly gaining religion as well.

Rapid Response to Demand

This increase in demand, adoption of new solutions, and adventures into new markets will ratchet up the volume of data center construction. Super-sizing data centers and the post-pandemic building boom will drive evolution of traditional construction processes and put pressure on supply chains, requiring new technology to keep pace.

Building information management (BIM) systems usage will become a standard, and two-dimensional models will increasingly be replaced by three-dimensional alternatives, which offer a more thorough assessment of requirements, clash resolution, cost, and scheduling.

With a clear model, prefabrication then expedites the project delivery timeline. Even more pieces of the puzzle, from power racks to walls, will be built off-site to accommodate simultaneous construction projects. Modularization and prefabrication will not only cut labor costs but also open opportunities for construction-workforce diversity. In this new technology-driven era more women can be expected to enter the construction workforce, creating a broader pool of talent to draw upon for these important, time-sensitive projects.

The rapid development of data centers, including edge facilities in an increasing number of non-traditional locations will heighten the need for more comprehensive management tools. For example, the cost of a truck roll to a remote location will become a key factor in operational planning. Data center operators will need platforms that meld technologies like AI and SDDC (Software Defined Data Center) to enable them to perform a number of current hands-on tasks, such as resetting breakers from a single remote location.

There are infinite ways humanity will never be the same after COVID-19, and rather than continuing to be pushed to the limit, data centers will expand to serve the future economy.

Opinions expressed in the article above do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Data Center Knowledge and Informa.

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