Our reliance on technology grows more and more every day. Most of us would be lost without our mobile devices. From accessing email, to surfing the web, to streaming online videos and music, we have the luxury of these services readily available and at the touch of a button. It was once good enough to have access to all of these services. In recent years, however, there is more to be desired: faster access and enhanced video quality. Companies such as Netflix, which reported a total of 93.8 million subscribers this year, and other web content companies, are working to enhance the quality of their services so viewers can not only binge watch TV shows and movies, but binge watch in high definition.
Sounds good, right? Well, there is more to it. There’s little concern for people located in the top metros, such as New York and Los Angeles, about speed and high-definition quality of the online videos they are accessing with these high-bandwidth web services. That might not be the case for those classified in Tier II data center markets, such as Orlando, FL, for example. Traditionally, if a user in a Tier II market wanted to access internet-based content, that content would come from the next closest market. As technology has grown, and the need for faster, higher-quality service has arrived, a new type of facility that reaches those in Tier II markets has emerged and is known as “edge data centers.” Quite simply, these are facilities that “extend” the internet further to markets in need.
WHAT MAKES AN EDGE DATA CENTER AN EDGE DATA CENTER?
Sometimes referred to as a micro data center, edge data centers are small facilities that range in size from 100 kW up to as much as 1,000 kW and are geographically located close to endusers. A quality edge data center typically provides access to 50% or more of consumers and enterprises in its market and connects with 75% or more of the local internet usage. In today’s fast-paced world, delivering fast, high-quality internet content seamlessly to the enduser is the highest priority. With the continued growth of data consumption and technology, relying on traditional data center facilities just does not cut it. Thanks to edge data centers, endusers in Tier II markets can receive a high-quality media experience.
Another way to view this is to think about where a city gets its water supply. A small city might work with a neighboring municipality to tap into its water system. As both cities grow, though, the providing city will want to make sure its own users have the best service, while the smaller (but growing) city has needs beyond what was originally conceived. In those cases, smaller cities would seek to build their own water systems, reservoirs, and more. What we are seeing is a digital version of needed expansions of critical infrastructure.
Site selection for data center construction is continuously challenging. Constructing these smaller “edge” facilities is no different. Building in urban environments and Tier II cities, as well as understanding adoptability, cooling, and connectivity are all important factors. Power itself is a major consideration. A data facility needs a site that has adequate power without affecting surrounding businesses, residences, and more — or in a place where such power can be delivered. This means local utilities are likely a major stakeholder and will affect where a data center is built.
Cooling remains a significant challenge that works hand-in-hand with energy. If the data center is proprietary to a business, those costs will hit the bottom line and, at some point downstream, affect the prices of the end product. Netflix, for example, is not just spending money on licensing rights; they also have to pay the bills to keep data halls running. Those costs can also affect rates for buying space in a colocation center. While demand for data storage is high, smart companies will seek to lease space in data centers that offer the best reliability for price. The lower the energy profile, the better, and site selection can have a major effect on the costs of power.
AN EDGE SUCCESS STORY: SERVER DOME AT OHSU
Skanska worked with Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) to add a new, virtually maintenance-free, data center on its West Campus in Hillsboro, OR. It was built with the intention of sharing the workload of its primary data center in downtown Portland.
Housed in an 18,000-sq-ft geodesic aluminum dome, known as Data Center West, it significantly reduces energy and maintenance costs, while assuring the highest possible levels of security and uptime. The Tier III-Plus modular and scalable 3.8 megawatt data center accommodates more than 8,000 IT rack units in a hub-and-spoke configuration with an innovative design for ambient air cooling. In addition to highly efficient and reliable climate control, the novel monolithic aluminum geodesic dome delivers air filtration, seismic stability, and load-bearing capacity for the facility.
The server dome design was created in response to a need to efficiently store and analyze the enormous amounts of data from the university’s work in genomics, genetics, and imaging. While we tend to think of entertainment content as a key driver of data center growth, digitalization of health care services is a significant driver as well. For providers like OHSU, access to vital data needs to happen as fast as possible — after all, when you’re in the exam room, you don’t want to wait for something to download. This need will continue to grow, and edge data centers are a solution.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The world we live in today was something generations before us could only imagine. It is something many of us take for granted. It was not long ago that people were using a Sony Walkman to play cassette tapes to listen to music or a camcorder to capture videos. Now we can stream videos and music on our iPhones or smart devices and tablets on our commute to work, even in subway tunnels. While we have come a long way, only one thing is certain about the future — technology will continue to play a role in our lives, driving our reliance on these devices more and more.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) evolves, the data center industry will need to keep pace. As we start to look ahead at the next wave of technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, the equipment that makes these things possible will need to be close to users. As a result, the need for edge data centers, a concept that is relatively new to the industry, will continue to grow. We will need facilities to house equipment that will make not just today’s technologies effective to all users, but future technologies that are around the corner. The effectiveness, however, does not solely lie on edge data centers, but they will surely play a critical role.