SEATTLE — Uptime Institute announced the release of its 11th annual Global Data Center Survey. The findings showcase an industry enjoying widespread growth while adapting to increasing complexity and challenges, such as evolving efficiency and sustainability requirements, rising outage costs, the ongoing workforce shortage, supply chain interruptions, and more. 

“The 2021 survey results highlight continued growth within the sector and the many complex challenges data center owners and operators are facing today,” said Andy Lawrence, executive director of research, Uptime Institute. “The stakes have never been higher when it comes to outage prevention, environmental sustainability, and overall performance. That’s why organizations must continue to carefully reassess their mission critical digital infrastructure and operations to minimize service delivery risk and maximize resiliency.”

Uptime Institute’s annual Global Data Center Survey provides a comprehensive profile of the current digital critical infrastructure landscape and a sense of its future trajectory. Key findings from the 2021 report include the following. 

  • Organizations are not closely tracking their environmental footprint despite the global sustainability push. While most data center owners and operators track PUE and more than 80% measure power consumption rates and effectiveness, many still are not prioritizing vital metrics for improving and reporting sustainability. Just 51% of respondents measure water use in some way (mainly at the individual site level instead of across their entire portfolio of facilities). Less than half of respondents say that they track server utilization, only one-third calculate carbon emission levels, and just 25% track e-waste or equipment lifecycle metrics.

  • Staffing shortages continue, and AI is not expected to reduce requirements in the near future. As the sector continues to grow, the shortage of qualified data center professionals continues. Nearly half of owners and operators surveyed report difficulty finding skilled candidates, up from 38% in 2018. As such, it is clear why 75% of respondents believe that most data center professionals have long-term job security. Three out of four owners and operators believe AI will reduce their data center staffing needs at some point, but half project this shift is more than five years away.

  • The number of outages has declined, but the consequences continue to worsen. In 2021, 69% of data center owners and operators reported experiencing some form of outage (regardless of severity) in the past three years, a noteworthy decrease from 78% for the three years to 2020. While respondents indicate that just over half of all downtime incidents are fleeting and have few consequences, the remaining half cause substantial financial, operational, and reputational damage. And 62% of outages that respondents classified as significant, serious, or severe cost more than $100,000 (an increase from 56% in 2020), while 15% of these outages cost over $1 million.

  • On-site power remains the most common cause of outages, and most downtime incidents are likely preventable. As with previous years, on-site power was the most common cause of outages in 2021, followed by cooling failures, software or IT system errors, and network issues. The results show that 79% of data center outages involve human error — staff failing to execute or incorrect processes and procedures are the top two issues contributing to those incidents. Three out of four owners and operators believe their most recent outage was preventable, a 16% increase over 2019.

  • Pandemic pressures and more disrupt data center supply chains. The COVID-19 crisis, extreme weather, and political factors have caused supply chain interruptions over the past year. Most suppliers to data centers anticipate that problems with the supply of critical data center products and services in the coming two years will affect capital expenditure projects or IT equipment availability, or both. Just 25% of suppliers believe there will not be any delays or impacts.

  • Data center suppliers expect large cloud and internet companies to reshape the supply chain. Nearly one-third of suppliers expect most of their customers will own data centers 20 MW or more within five years, and half report that these larger customers often seek projects to be delivered on timelines, budgets, or at scales that prove challenging. Half of suppliers believe that large data center operators will likely take more control of their custom designs and create their own supply chains to bypass traditional equipment sourcing options in the next three to five years.

  • Rack density levels are creeping up. Rack density is slowly rising but remains relatively moderate and typically well under 10 kW per IT cabinet, even at flagship sites. More than one-third of respondents stated their most common rack density is currently below 5 kW, while nearly half reported between 5 and 10 kW. The survey results indicate a shift toward more powerful racks, between 5 and 10 kW, in facilities larger than 3 MW of maximum IT load supported, compared with smaller sites.


Some additional findings are listed below.

  • PUE levels remain stagnant. In 2021, the average annualized data center PUE was 1.57, a minor improvement over 2020’s average of 1.59 that is consistent with the overall trend of PUE stagnation over the past five years.

  • The data center edge expands. More than 60% of respondents anticipate that edge computing demand will increase this year. More than one-fourth (26%) expect demand to grow significantly, compared to just 18% in 2020.

  • Cloud providers lack transparency. Although owners and operators are increasingly moving mission critical workloads to the public cloud, a quarter of respondents would be more inclined to do so if visibility into the operational resiliency of the service was better.

  • Despite progress, the proportion of women in the data center industry remains low. Nearly one-third (30%) of owners and operators say the proportion of women working in their data centers has increased over the past year. But there is still much work to be done. More than 75% of respondents report that women make up just 10% of their workforce, while only 5% indicate half of their staff are women. This aligns with gender disparity levels Uptime Institute has reported since 2018.