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

Data Centers to 5G: Bring It On!

Data will need to be hosted and streamed at significant higher speeds, volumes, and lower latencies if the full promise of 5G is to be successfully commercialized, at scale.

Industry Perspectives

February 7, 2018

4 Min Read
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Brian Lavallée is Senior Director of Solutions Marketing for Ciena.

There’s no doubt that 5G will affect all parts of the network – from end users, to both man and machine (things) to data centers, and everything in between. In fact, according to IHS Economics and IHS Technology’s report from 2017, 5G is expected to lay the groundwork for technologies such as making self-driving cars more responsive to traffic changes or IoT sensors becoming more intuitive and integrated into smart buildings and smart cities. The same report finds that it has the potential to create a staggering $12.2 trillion in global economic output by 2035. To put that number in perspective, it “is nearly equivalent to U.S. consumer spending in 2016 and more than the combined spending by consumers in China, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and France in 2016.”

While 2035 may feel like a world away, data centers are already feeling the pressure to prepare. Data will need to be hosted and streamed at significant higher speeds, volumes, and lower latencies if the full promise of 5G is to be successfully commercialized, at scale.

Current Status of 5G 

We have already seen 5G trials and major announcements in North America from from prominent carriers that include Verizon and AT&T. On the global stage, the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics are expected have 5G front and center. South Korea, which is already an earlier innovator in the space, will offer limited 5G services at the Winter Olympic games in PyeongChang. For the 2020 Olympic Games, Japan plans to have 5G up and running in designated areas.

Countries across the globe are aggressively looking to roll out 5G services. According to the GSMA, “5G could account for as many as 1.4 billion connections by 2025, or about 20 percent of the world’s population.”

Bringing Content Closer to the User

With 5G able to support up to 1,000 higher data volumes, it is likely that consumers will download content more often and at greater quantities. Plus, with an expected five times reduction in latency, technologies such as virtual and augmented reality will become more prevalent. Time-sensitive content still gets processed in the data center, meaning despite the low latency from the mobile device to the radio tower, the data center must be close enough to the radio tower to meet service-level agreements.

Some predict that as data centers get closer to the tower, the days of “mega centers” will be gone. Data rates will continue to grow at such exponential rates, meaning data centers at the edge won’t be able to keep up. This means data centers will likely increase in size.

Connecting Data Centers Over Submarine Cables

As noted, the importance of having data flow quickly from the end user to the data center (and vice versa) is paramount when supporting 5G services. As important though is getting data centers to “talk” to one another for content-related tasks such as database synchronization, backup and restore, dynamic load sharing and caching optimization. This is where submarine networks come into play. Not only do submarine networks connect cities and carry voice traffic, they also connect data centers. Overall, they carry more than 95 percent of the world’s intercontinental electronic communications traffic, and most of it is traffic flowing between mammoth data centers around the world.

What Can be Achieved with 5G? 

The effect of 5G will be felt much quicker than many predict, especially in the data center. Current applications place strain on network infrastructure, but 5G will change how we build and enhance data centers in the future. In fact, IHS Economics/IHS Technology views “5G as a catalyst that will thrust mobile technology into the exclusive realm of GPTs (General Purpose Technologies),” a technology that has profoundly changed industries and economies.

It’s amazing to think about how fast technology has evolved in such a relatively short amount of time. For example, the iconic iPhone was first introduced in 2007. Fast forward to today and about 66 percent of the world will own a smartphone by the end of the year, according to a report by Zenith. Now imagine what will happen in the next five to 10 years. Instead of seeing your colleagues across the world via video, you may feel like you are actually sitting in the room with them. With 5G, technologies like virtual and augmented reality will really start to take hold and will become more engrained in our everyday lives. Take a cue from the explosion of data we have already experienced: Now is the time to prepare for what is to come. 

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

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating.


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