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ANALYSIS

Ashraf Yehia, managing director – Middle East, Eaton

Next generation of data centres – predictions for 2020

DUBAI, February 17, 2020

By Ashraf Yehia

From the confluence of major IT trends to the increasing social demand to halt climate change, green energy is again, top of the agenda. Over the next year or so, major changes in this area are expected to be introduced by the government, energy generation, and energy distribution companies. They are the major forces that construct the energy market and will have a major impact on the data centre industry.

Transforming the power network

The EU plans for 32 per cent renewable energy by 2030, this falls short of the ambitions of many environmental groups. But it puts into focus the need for many operators to address what is called Energy Transition. Adopting more and more renewable energy brings potential instability and new variables for the grid transmission system operator to manage.

Grid voltage and frequency needs to be contained within strict limits. Ancillary services can provide the stability the grid needs to manage increased levels of renewable energy. This is important to data centre operators in two ways:

1.    Will the adoption of renewable energy by the grid operator make the grid less stable and therefore increase the chance of outages?
2.    Can my large data centre stored energy be used to provide these ancillary services, thereby providing a new revenue stream and de-risking my primary power?

Energy Transition therefore causes the data operator to rethink and potentially transform their electrical infrastructure into a power network with new functionality.

The Edge and 5G

1.    “Next year will be when we start to understand what edge computing is and what it isn’t. Over the past few years, there has been a continuous hyped conversation around the subject, but a huge gap in knowledge around how edge will function remains. Often the phrases edge compute, cloud edge, edge data centre, are all treated as equivalent and interchangeable terms- but in reality, they are not. The concept that there will be a proliferation of discrete mini/micro cloud data centres at a neighbourhood level will hit a cold reality.

There are entire countries, let alone cities, without the presence of hyperscale cloud data centres and they are no less sophisticated in their IT needs than others. The reason being the well-placed use of colocation data centres, fixed-line and mobile broadband networks. Off the back of 5G, the telecommunications industry is ideally placed to produce and support edge computing into the fabric of their networks- either independently or with cloud/DC partners”.

2.    Device edge compute is different from traditional edge computing. Some IoT architectures may require a connection to a centralised point for data processing or data storage. Others will take a different approach where data is generated and processed all at the source. The second approach addresses latency directly, so lower network latency and bandwidth is possible. This approach is adequately handled by current data centre and telecom network infrastructure.

3.    5G deployments will be in full swing next year, with latency a fraction of 4G, and bandwidth a serious multiple (10-100 times faster than 4G).The next year is going to be an exciting time for consumers looking for faster speeds and HD content. But also, it will be an interesting time for organisations looking to take the next step in digital transformation.

In 2020, telecom energy leaders will architect a new energy network strategy for wide spread 5G adoption. When 5G is fully deployed, it’s going to have a major impact on the energy fabric for the operator and the country itself. But balancing data and energy consumption is not just an issue for the operator; it’s a growing issue for the consumer.

Today’s consumers want a bigger digital footprint but at the same time, want a smaller carbon footprint. The ideal scenario is that data centres and telecom operators use their electrical infrastructure to help grid operators procure more green energy. Thankfully, such energy aware technology exists; we just need to see the will to adopt it on a wide scale.

In the end, if we prioritise renewable energy and decarbonise electricity, consumers don’t have to feel digital guilt.

Changing pace for the data centre

4.    “Many applications were born and operate exclusively in the ‘cloud’. Looking back, the data centres hosting these applications became a natural home for many organisations seeking efficiencies by moving applications to both public and private cloud platforms. In addition to the hyperscale cloud data centres, the multi-tenant data centre sector also grew. In 2020, the growth in both sectors will continue at an accelerating pace as more organisations tend towards ‘off site’ strategies and more new business models and processes exploit cloud efficiencies. But there is also a third data centre sector, the National multi-tenant data centre operator. These are more local in terms of nature and their business models.

They provide local clients with the benefits of off-site strategies, but at the same time provide ample and facilitated access for company IT professionals to conduct work, upgrades, and operations at the data centre. Some companies want the benefit afforded by cloud and commercial data centres but do not want to lose control of assets and data.

Perhaps not to the “headline grabbing” scale of the big international data centre operators, but these national data centres are numerous, provide an essential service and form a significant part of our digital landscape. Digital transformation is borderless and benefits organisations of every size, so as it spreads so too does the need for international and national data centre capacity.

5.    Next year, we’ll see a measured shift in the number of creative ways to cool data centres –particularly by direct liquid cooling. As the processing power of compute increases so does the heat generated. For every kW of electrical energy consumed in a data centre, there is another kW needed to cool the equipment and keep it in its operational temperature range.

Instead of cooling the entire space with either mechanical or free air cooling at a certain power density, a more direct or targeted cooling approach can be deployed. This can be done by immersion cooling, where entire servers are submerged into tanks of thermally conductive, but not electrically conductive liquid, or by direct liquid cooling whereby the electronics and heat sink on the motherboard can be encapsulated in a manifold and a liquid flow removes the heat.

6.    In 2020, more data centres are going to be designed with on-site generation and there are various reasons why.

The site selection process for a data centre is a complex task. One major parameter is the availability of sufficient grid power. Allocation might be ideal in all areas but then falls short because the power isn’t available to the level or timeline needed. Moving forward, operators can look to onsite generation for primary power as the formation of their own microgrids can offer many benefits. In addition to meeting their own energy needs, the operator may even decide to export power and use the facility for other ancillary grid services.

These on-site solutions can vary from complimentary PV panels to large scale gas or diesel turbines. But serious considerations must be given to balance this practical need with the green energy objectives.

About the author

Ashraf Yehia, managing director – Middle East, Eaton, a multinational power management company




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