In 2020, the concept of mission critical fundamentally evolved as business became more reliant on the cloud-to-power operations, processes, and remote collaboration, making the resiliency and reliability of data center power systems more important than ever.


But what is needed to adequately power data centers as they continue to process and compute an ever-increasing volume of mission critical data and enable technologies of the future?

As seen in a recent report, “Data Overload: Powering Data Centers in the New Normal,” power is top of mind for data center professionals. In fact, 96% of those surveyed reported that data center demand increased in 2020, and 53% said they are likely to consider power system upgrades to meet increased demand in the future. What’s more is that demand is expected to skyrocket in the coming years.

With next-generation technologies, such as 5G, AI, and edge computing, becoming increasingly mainstream, it’s more important than ever for data center operators to put power at the forefront of upgrade considerations. Otherwise, the potential of emerging technologies will never get off the ground floor.

To put this into perspective, last year, International Data Corp. research showed 59 zettabytes would be created, captured, copied, and consumed in the world in 2020, with growth through 2024 at a five-year compound annual growth rate of 26%.

Combined with emerging technologies, and as enterprises continue to aggressively accelerate digital transformation — which advanced by an average of six years in 2020 — all of this data must be routed somewhere. It’s up to data center operators to consider the critical role power systems play in expanding capacity and ensuring continuous uptime.

Swimming in the Deep End

The past year has spurred record spending on data centers, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. New research shows the total investment in data centers is expected to increase from $244 billion in 2019 to $432 billion in 2025.

But where should these dollars go? From the Data Overload report and the broader industry landscape, there are several areas to consider.

1) Picking the right power architecture and planning for scale.
For data center operators, investing in the right power architecture can make or break the long-term viability of their data centers and influence the types of businesses they can work with in the future.

While it’s common for data centers to rely on AC power architectures with centralized uninterruptible power supplies at the center, more than half of survey respondents said they are likely to consider DC power architectures as right-fit upgrades to supplement existing power systems. Wondering why that is?

The fact is, there are many myths about DC power — from its net cost to compatibility with existing systems to the ability to install cabinets and other components years after a data center build-out is complete. It’s time these myths be dispelled.

DC is more efficient from a power conversion standpoint. Every time power is converted (whether from AC to DC or stepped up/down in voltage), it loses energy, mostly in the form of heat. The fewer power conversion steps required in a power architecture, the lower the power losses and the less heat generated. If data center operators make a holistic shift to DC power, it will lead to greater efficiency and sustainability. It also leads to lower costs — both in capital and maintenance, which, by the way, is the top power concern for data center professionals in the Data Overload report.

Further, DC equipment can take up less real estate and make use of otherwise stranded white space on the data room floor, helping to increase capacity by enabling additional servers, routers, switches, firewalls, storage systems, and cooling equipment to be installed. This is especially important, as data centers must utilize every square inch available to maximize return on investment and support increasingly behemoth quantities of data.

2) Preparing for emerging technologies.
It’s not just traditional enterprise businesses that are harnessing the power of cloud computing to support digital transformation. Every facet of our modern lives is being pushed up the IoT hill, from smart cities to factories manufacturing and shipping billions of products every year to telecom companies innovating technologies to increase connectivity.

Of course, there’s a connecting thread between all of these applications: The data being processed has to run through a data center — and quickly. For operators looking to improve their data center resiliency, efficiency, and reliability, it’s imperative to consider the infrastructure required to support and respond to rapidly changing and increasing capacity demands.

The IoT is all about providing low latency and connectivity to transmit and process large amounts of information quickly. Edge computing is one way to navigate and keep that data close to its output source.

For operators, choosing a distributed DC power architecture is the first step in ensuring maximum uptime and resiliency to support these emerging technologies. Even a millisecond of unplanned interrupted power has the potential to disrupt entire networks and cause a ripple effect of chaotic website crashes, downed applications, and massive interference to the tools every enterprise business relies upon.

3) Data centers are not one-size-fits-all.
Not all data centers are built equally. There are actually a myriad of data center options available from bespoke solutions fit to a particular enterprise’s needs to hyperscale data centers run largely by big tech to colocation data centers/carrier hotels.

When picking and choosing the right data center to support an organization’s needs, operators must foremost consider the types of data processing they need to be able to do now as well as in three, five, and even 10 years. For example, the advent of widespread 5G networks will open up new doors for businesses to achieve greater connectivity and productivity, but it will only be possible with robust edge computing infrastructure and micro data centers, in which case hyperscale data centers are not right-fit solutions.

The amount of data generated every minute and every day is truly mind-boggling. By 2024, there’s estimated to be a more than 152% increase in the amount of data created, captured, copied, and consumed worldwide, according to the IDC. While increasing demand is a known entity, the ability to scale data centers to meet the advent of emerging technologies must be paramount to meet both the expected and the unexpected with agility and resilience.