SAN FRANCISCO — Data gravity, or the propensity for bodies of data to draw an expanding swath of applications and services into closer proximity, has been identified as a key megatrend impacting enterprises and service providers over the next decade, according to recently published research. Data gravity may affect an enterprise's ability to innovate, secure customer experiences, and even deliver financial results on a global scale. The Data Gravity Index measures the creation, aggregation, and private exchange of enterprise data and examines its impact on the Forbes Global 2000.

Leaders at London-based Aon plc, a global professional services firm specializing in financial risk-mitigation products and number 485 on the Forbes Global 2000, believe that data gravity, and its impact on macro factors, such as enterprise data stewardship and regulatory developments, is a megatrend that will present significant challenges for global businesses.

"Understanding data gravity and its impact on our IT infrastructure is a difference-maker for our operations and will only become more important as data continues to serve as the currency of the digital economy," said Munu Gandhi, Aon's vice president of core infrastructure services. "As enterprises become more data-intensive, there's a compounding effect on business points of presence, regulatory oversight, and increased complexity for compliance and data privacy that IT leaders are now being forced to solve." 

Principal Research Analyst Eric Hanselman at 451 Research, part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, points to the looming impact of data gravity and the necessary context the Data Gravity Index provides.

"Data gravity is the idea that data is an anchor that is often hard to move, especially as data volumes grow,” Hanselman said. “If that growth takes place in public or private clouds that are not easily accessible by the enterprise using them, the full value of that data can't be realized, and the enterprise will be trapped into spending exorbitant sums to free it." 

"Data is growing at an accelerating rate due to the growth of IoT, AI, and social mobile analytics," said Tony Bishop, senior vice president of platform, growth, and marketing at Digital Realty, which backed the study. "There's a good story to tell here. But there's another side to the story, too, with growth resulting in the compounding force of data gravity. Unchecked, data gravity can lead to limited innovation, poor customer and employee experiences, increased costs, information silos, compliance issues, security concerns, and slow decision-making for the enterprise. The Data Gravity Index provides quantitative insight to help customers understand the dynamics of data gravity and turn it into a data-centric opportunity for their business." 

“Most enterprises and service providers are just at the beginning stages of understanding data gravity's potential impact on their innovation, customer experience, and profitability, but they need to be designing for it now,” said Chris Sharo, chief technology officer, Digital Realty. “The study is designed to give CIOs, chief architects, and infrastructure leaders insight into the phenomena causing architecture constraints as well as a blueprint for addressing them."

The term data gravity was coined in a 2010 blog post by Dave McCrory, who led the research behind the Data Gravity Index. The analysis sheds light on implications for the acceleration of enterprise digital transformation spurred by data gravity. Below are a few of the key findings. 

  • Data gravity growth is expected to double annually through 2024 as data stewardship drives global enterprises to expand their digital infrastructure capacity to aggregate, store, and manage the majority of the world's data. 
  • Enterprises are approaching quantum computing levels of data creation, processing, and storage. The Forbes Global 2000 enterprises across the 21 metros analyzed are projected to create data at a rate of 1.1 million GB per second by 2024, will be required to add 8.96 exaFLOPS to process new digital workflows, and are expected to increase data storage needs by 15,635 exabytes annually. Data location will become exponentially more important to global enterprises as they endeavor to meet compliance requirements by maintaining local copies of critical data. 
  • Data gravity intensity is accelerating across all regionsData Gravity, as measured in gigabytes per second, is expected to more than double annually across the EMEA, APAC, and North America regions through 2024.
  • The top six metros expected to generate the fastest growth from 2020-2024 include (in descending order) Singapore, Hong Kong, Dallas, Sydney, Seattle, and Tokyo.

Data-Centric Infrastructure Required

The effects of data gravity will force strategic IT infrastructure to aggregate and maintain data, whether in public or private clouds, from the core to the edge and across every point of business presence to control centers of data exchange. 

"The Data Gravity Index posits that to defy data gravity, organizations must design their infrastructure and networks in a more data-centric fashion, inverting traffic flow and bringing users, networks, and clouds to privately hosted enterprise data," said Digital Realty Chief Executive Officer A. William Stein. "The location of enterprise data should be a strategic decision — and a connected community approach is needed to decide where to put it and how to connect it at global points of business presence. We're excited to provide our customers, and the industry at-large, greater insight into this important challenge to help them make strategic decisions that will unleash their digital transformation potential."