The data centre industry is looking forward to a sustained period of enormous growth. While there will be construction challenges, there is already a solution, says Jos Baart, vice president sales and marketing at Flexenclosure
We are living in an explosion of data. More data is being generated, collected, processed, stored and demanded back again than ever before. And the sheer volume alone is creating huge challenges for our industry – challenges that we need immediate solutions for.
So where is all this data coming from? We could point to the arrival of the Internet of Things and the sensors that are being built into more and more products. Or the gaming industry, fuelled by ongoing exponential increases in networking speed and processing power.
Or even self-driving vehicles, which are fast reaching their tipping point into mainstream technology. But while these three clearly account for a lot of new data, the simple fact is that the data explosion is being driven by an explosion in applications of all shapes and sizes, often with no common denominator other than the fact that they all create and feed on ones and zeros.
The sheer volume of data that needs to be managed is not the only challenge though. Immediacy of access and speed to use are also critical. Many of the new applications in our lives operate in human time, requiring ultra-low latency in communication between application, network and users.
We expect to be able to access what we need when we need it, with no delay. We expect buffering to be a thing of the past and have little patience for it today. We expect everything to be at our fingertips – often literally and always immediately. This managing of the user experience is critical, so latency sensitive traffic needs to be prioritised and processed as close to the users as possible.
And of course, with every new day bringing new applications online as well as new, previously unconnected users, data volumes are only going to get bigger and demanded speeds are only going to get faster.
Flexenclosure’s prefabricated eCentre data centre for Millicom/Tigo in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
Physical foundation of a digital world
In order to make all of this possible, data centre operators are going to need to keep a step ahead. The problem is that our digital cloud-based world still needs to live in a physical one – and one that is somewhat more complex than a simple network of core data centres dotted around the world’s tier 1 cities.
A lot of the data we create and consume today needs to be managed by a combination of local caching, local and central processing and analysis of everything. Without a very different approach to where, geographically, data centre space is available, many new applications will not be commercially viable. And this is why we are seeing such an increase in interest for and deployment of new edge data centres.
With this shift of bringing processing capacity to the data (rather than the traditional, expensive and time-consuming approach of taking data to central and often distant processors), it is little wonder that the data centre industry needs to evolve.
It goes without saying that we need more data centre capacity in order to keep the available infrastructure on top of growing demand. What is changing is that not only will we continue to see growth at central locations in order to process the core applications, there is also going to be a significant increase in demand for data centres at both the edge and micro edge.
The shift has already begun. Many cloud and colocation companies have started to deploy smaller edge data centres in Tier 2 cities.
However, while it’s clear that all sizes of the world’s data centre facilities – hyper, core, edge and micro – are going to be growing in number for the foreseeable future, I believe the real growth will be in micro edge data centres.
That said, while the demand for edge and micro edge facilities is creating huge business potential, it will also pose a significant variety of challenges. The simultaneous financing of multiple new facilities will get more complex. The competitive landscape will evolve with new non-traditional players entering the market.
And as networks of many geographically dispersed and potentially un-manned micro edge data centres are established, new processes will be required in order to mitigate the associated risks of concurrent rollout and ongoing management.
Flexenclosure’s prefabricated eCentre micro data centre for NEXTDC in Perth, Australia
This is where Flexenclosure has already been able to help a great many customers, with prefabricated modular data centres. By creating an initial design that meets the precise needs of each customer, subsequent data centres can then be built to the same common blueprint and deployed with complete confidence.
This makes it possible to make the design of the integrated data centre building entirely independent of the conditions at any given site, thus saving significant time across multiple projects and locations. And planning and managing the maintenance of each site is far easier as the system is already a well-known entity.
We call this bespoke standardisation. Each client will have their own unique demands that we will factor in to create a facility that meets their exact needs. Once complete, the design can be mass produced and deployed to any number of locations, with site-specific fine tuning planned for in the generic design phase and executed as required for each site.
The result is an extremely efficient repeatable design and deployment model, wherein the standardisation significantly reduces the time to deployment, the cost of deployment and total cost of ownership.
Prefabricated construction – the way of the future
Prefabrication allows data centres to be built in a far more cost-efficient way. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be cheaper than a traditionally built brick and mortar facility, but it will definitely be faster and of higher quality. And where smaller edge and micro edge data centres are needed, mass producing bespoke designed facilities in numbers can indeed make it cheaper too.
In fact, the main challenge faced by prefabricated data centres is not the technology itself but its historical perception, as there are many who still incorrectly associate prefabricated modular data centres with narrow and inflexible ISO containerised solutions.
On the contrary, prefabricated facilities such as Flexenclosure’s eCentre data centres have fully flexible open white space that offer unlimited configuration options. The reality is that ‘prefabrication’ is simply the name for a construction methodology that is more than capable of delivering the world’s most technologically advanced data centres.
In fact, with eCentres pre-equipped and tested prior to onsite deployment, a project duration a lot shorter than for a brick and mortar facility and providing unparalleled predictability in terms of time, cost, quality and energy efficiency, the only limitation to a prefabricated facility is a lack of imagination.
In many respects, there is no question that our future will be driven by data, if only we are able to create the infrastructure required to manage it. Prefabricated data centres are the perfect solution.