5 Trends Affecting Modern Data Centers

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Though data centers have been around for many years, the modern versions are wildly different from data centers of just a short time ago. Traditional data centers relied upon physical servers in on-premises facilities. Today, they’re more likely to be virtual networks supporting workloads and applications across a mix of multicloud environments and physical infrastructure. Because data is connected across not just multiple data centers but public and private clouds and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, modern data centers must be able to communicate with all of these varied resources. 

Here are five key trends transforming the way we store data in modern data centers.

Data Centers are Growing Alongside Data Use 

While small data centers used to be common, they’re getting bigger all the time. They have to in order to keep up with expanding workloads. The boom in remote work during the pandemic contributed to the increased need for cloud technologies to support a dispersed workforce, and as a result, big data center operators expanded accordingly. 

“Increased enterprise adoption of cloud and [colocation] services continues to drive data center capacity growth in all regions,” said Alan Howard, Principal Analyst for Cloud and Colocation Services at Omdia. 

High Performance Computing is Driving Demand

Data centers are not just getting bigger—they’re also getting more powerful, as demand for high-intensity processing needs like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and high-performance computing (HPC) grows. Cutting edge companies now work with datasets made up of trillions of records, and data center operators are ramping up density in terms of compute power and storage capacity to meet the need. 

Earl Joseph, CEO of Hyperion Research, said AI, machine learning, and deep learning are growing at close to 30 percent a year, which parallels the rate of storage growth. 

A decade ago, average power densities per rack were in the 4-5 kW range, according to the Uptime Institute. By 2020, that was up to 8-10 kW per rack. About 10 percent of data centers now report rack densities of 20-29 kW, and 5 percent are at 50 kW or more. The demands of high performance computing and the insatiable appetite of modern applications are pushing rack density and storage capacity to unprecedented heights.

Sustainability is Becoming Critical to Decisions 

Experts believe that data centers use as much as 2 percent of all power worldwide, and companies looking to build or expand are running into issues. The industry as a whole is under pressure to reduce its carbon footprint. Some cities and regions are placing moratoriums on new data center construction, while others are restricting the amount of power they can draw. Data center operators are actively looking for and deploying strategies to become more sustainable, replacing storage arrays with newer units that consume less energy and provide more storage density. Cooling is also a concern, and modern data centers are seeking ways to limit water usage by seeking natural cooling technologies that take advantage of regional climates.

Virgin Media O2, the United Kingdom’s biggest telecom provider, set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2040. To meet it, the company began weighing sustainability far more heavily in decision-making. When regional power costs rose by five to 10 times over the past years, the company began replacing aging EMC storage arrays with far more energy efficient units. 

“We have reduced our data center footprint and power usage by 96 percent to 98 percent,” said Business Optimization Manager Ajit Sharma.

Flash is Making Hard Drives Disappear 

Tape was the primary data storage medium not so long ago. Hard disk drives (HDDs) dominated for the last few decades, with tape relegated largely to a role in archiving and backup. And now there are signs that HDDs might follow them. The reasons are many: Disks are power hogs, inefficient in their use of energy. They are losing out badly to flash-based storage in terms of density, performance, and sustainability. 

As an example, JP Morgan Chase operates a Linux-based bare metal infrastructure serving the New York Stock Exchange. The company has been transitioning from HDD-based storage to all-flash arrays that can scale out to satisfy growing demand. Each HDD consumes 5 watts of energy, even while sitting idle, and currently those disks hold the bulk of capacity while the new flash arrays provide high performance for top tier data. Over time, however, the company is replacing all the aging arrays with flash. 

“Data is stored locally to minimize latency and is growing at 30 percent or more per year,” said Greg Johnson, Executive Director of Global Electronic Trading Services. “We were unable to keep up capacity using traditional storage.” 

Johnson predicts storage capacity growth rates will continue to accelerate as the company invests heavily in AI to improve fraud detection and credit card approval.

Data Sovereignty and Privacy is Becoming More Commonplace

Data center managers used to be mainly concerned about storage capacity and energy usage. Now they must also factor in issues such as data sovereignty and data privacy. The European General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) began the trend, but similar laws have emerged in California and New Zealand. More are likely. 

This poses a problem for data centers storing data in the cloud. Where privacy and sovereignty regulations are in place, data can’t be shoved around from data center to data center or from cloud to cloud. Data center managers must respect the rights of the geography where the data originated. Violators may be subject to hefty penalties. 

GDPR fines now exceed 4 billion Euros, for example. Data centers need to pay attention to technologies that not only store data efficiently, but keep track of its location. Geo-fencing and compliance software, for example, are increasing in adoption to help keep on top of storage location and privacy concerns. 

“Cloud storage may impact data sovereignty regulations for which a corporation is legally responsible,” said Rich Gadomski, Tape Evangelist at Fujifilm Recording Media USA.

Bottom Line: Modern Data Center Trends

Data centers are not going anywhere—in fact, the number of data centers is on the rise thanks to the expansion of hyperscale and colocation facilities that now primarily deliver cloud services—but they are evolving. As they change to meet growing demand, accommodate external pressures, and keep pace with new technologies, they also become more powerful and more efficient. The need for them shows no sign of diminishing, and operators will continue to seek new ways to expand and improve to meet the market.

Read next: 7 Essential Elements of Data Storage Compliance Regulations

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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