As a society, our dependence on the internet continues to grow exponentially. We see it everywhere we go — people staring at screens. It could be a child at a restaurant sitting at a table playing a game or watching a video on a tablet or smartphone, or a person reading the news on their smartphone on the train ride home from work. We are attached to our devices. In fact, a recent Nielsen company study revealed that the average American spends an average of nearly 11 hours each day with smartphones, tablets, TV, radio, computers, and video games. And even those numbers may be underestimated, since Nielsen measures the amount of time spent online on smartphones, but doesn’t count texting or talking on the phone. We are in an age where we are always connected. Few understand, or take the time to realize, how streaming a video or listening to music with such ease is made possible.
For those of us in the business of advising clients and building data center facilities, technology and the disruption that lies around each corner poses many unforeseen challenges. Flexibility in the design of new facilities will be critical. A recent report by The New Jersey Institute of Technology approximated that there are 20 billion smartphones, computers, tablets, and other devices connected to the internet, and by 2020 that number is expected to increase to 30 billion. All of these devices will generate 44 trillion gigabytes of data by 2020. These statistics make it clear that the need for data centers is on the rise. Consider then that there are 3 million data centers currently in the U.S., which is about one data center for every 100 people. With our hunger for data growing, our ever-increasing dependence on the internet, and the desire from both consumers and businesses to have seamless, click-and-play speed, this is just the beginning.
The cloud is serving as the great enabler. More and more personal and business data is being stored on the cloud. So instead of storing and running data from our computers at home or at the office, they are accessed through the host servers of cloud providers. As our usage of data continues growing at a rapid pace, it begs the question — will data centers that were built 10, 15, and 20 years ago be able to support this growth? And, maybe even more importantly, how can we build facilities today to support the technological unknowns of tomorrow? As this cloud evolution continues, it will be critical, now more than ever, to have a team that thinks beyond current-day needs and has the vision for a facility that can deliver value for owners through all the change to come.
DATA CENTERS OF THE PAST
Data centers used to be warehouses for servers. The traditional data center, often referred to as “siloed” data centers, have relied heavily on hardware and physical servers. These facilities were typically defined by the size of the building, whereas the amount of data that a facility could store and handle would correlate to the size of the facility. Traditional data centers were restricted by the size of the physical space in which the hardware is stored. More storage requires more server space, which means more hardware and the physical limitations of a traditional data center made this challenging. Essentially, for many businesses, data centers were treated like hard drives on a computer, rather than a living piece of infrastructure that supports core business functions in real time. That meant overspending. A company could build a large new facility only to need to build an entirely new facility a few years later. That approach might work when you spend a few hundred dollars on a new smartphone every couple of years, but spending hundreds of millions on a facility that will soon be obsolete is bad business.
Today, data centers should be viewed as necessary infrastructure to support our technology-driven society, core to business performance, and an asset that must be able to evolve as business does.
THE POWER AND EVOLUTION OF THE CLOUD
Who remembers the Walkman? Before the iPod, the Sony Walkman made portable music possible. Viewed as one of Sony’s most successful brands, the Walkman allowed people to listen to music wherever and whenever. This disruptive technology evolved over the years, with the format changing from cassette tapes to CDs to mini-discs and then MP3s. The Walkman changed the way we listened to music. Little did we know at that time that it was just the beginning. Fast forward to today: you can hear a song in a restaurant, ask your smartphone to identify that song just by “hearing it,” and then find it in your online music app of choice. You also have the capability to download that song directly to your device, and all within a minute. That’s a lot of dependency on the cloud. It doesn’t stop there. Technology has given us the power to do so much in just the palm of our hands — literally. Thanks to the smartphone, we can do things like order movies on-demand, talk, text, or communicate over social media and purchase a product online for same-day delivery. The cloud is helping to make it all possible.
The companies and service providers we depend on are household names. They’re already part of our daily lives and, with voice-activated digital assistants sitting on our kitchen counters, one-touch ordering and more, we’re only scratching the surface of what’s to come. Connectivity from devices to popular services offers tantalizing possibilities. We’re approaching an era where data from the cloud has a driverless ride-share service ready for you when it’s time to leave the house, with your favorite playlist already queued up in the car and a list of news and content picked for you to take in on the way. This isn’t science fiction. It will be here sooner than you think.
INDUSTRY OUTLOOK: BUILDING DATA CENTERS TODAY WITH THE UNKNOWNS OF TOMORROW
As technology continues to push boundaries and big data grows, construction of new data centers is imperative to support future demands. That doesn’t mean construction of bigger facilities. It means rethinking how the next wave of data centers are built and managed, with an eye on building more cost-effective, efficient, and responsive facilities. We are entering a new era of data center procurement and development. Scalability and sustainability of data centers is key to maximizing the value of capital expended to build. The only way we will realize this is through full integration of business plans into data center procurement. The companies that rely on the cloud for revenue will yield better results for customers and shareholders by collaborating with design and construction and other supply chain partners, while also examining how to create a space that can evolve with their businesses and technological advances.
An upshot of this will be the ability to bring new infrastructure online more quickly, which stands to benefit customers, as well. The right type of data center will be able to bring on new infrastructure to support business needs in weeks, not months. Similarly, it will have the ability to replace old equipment with new, while finding new ways to offset energy and water use.