Probably a safe bet that when Bob Dylan sang ‘the times, they are a-changing’, he had no idea of all the changes yet to come. As we continue to deal with the ramifications of a global pandemic, data centres must simultaneously face up to the technological transformations already happening all around us. What am I talking about?
- 5G – super high-speed internet, which is enabling the IoT.
- IoT – aka, the internet of things, which is supplemented by AI.
- AI and machine learning – advanced algorithms that predict and control machine behaviour.
If you regularly talk to Alexa, Google or Siri, you’re already making use of IoT and machine learning. Meanwhile, digitalisation is transforming traditional manufacturing industries, where these same technologies are already becoming common practice. Autonomous cars, smart homes and even smart cities will all be enabled by IoT technology, which requires that super-fast 5G connection.
Of course, while these things have a sort of dreamlike, floaty quality to them, they all have a very real, very dense data footprint and a hefty IT infrastructure requirement. The servers that support these advanced technologies need a physical presence somewhere. And being of the incredibly powerful HPC variety, they also need above-standard power and cooling.
What does that add up to? Higher demands on data centres. Let’s take a closer look:
5G and the IoT
5G is an enabling technology. Basically, all the power and potential of IoT, AI and machine learning cannot be optimised without these high-speed internet connections. As a passenger in a driverless car, for example, you want to know that decisions are being made in nanoseconds rather than milliseconds. That’s the difference that 5G can make – so long as all the infrastructure is in place.
In order to facilitate this high-speed internet, you need data centres nearby. This not only reduces latency, but also provides a home for all the data generated by these smart devices. Meanwhile, the expectation is that the more we enable IoT devices – i.e. by providing 5G connections – the more IoT devices there will be. Data centre capacity will need to grow accordingly.
That’s why we’re expecting a rise in the number of Edge Data Centres – data centres that are built away from tech hubs and are closer to devices. These could be small facilities, designed to accommodate specific servers, or they could be multi-tenant data centres like ours, open to all. Most likely, it will be both.
AI and machine learning
AI and machine learning are complex technologies processing vast amounts of data at high speeds. This is a HPC application and it can’t be hosted without specialised power delivery and cooling, which all happens in a – you guessed it...data centre! Power delivery is fairly straightforward. More power requires bigger, better cables (and hopefully renewable energy, for a more sustainable approach).
Cooling is more complicated – and can be more expensive. (Learn more about the cooling requirements of HPC here.) Standard air conditioning isn’t going to cut it, so you need rear-door, direct-to-chip or immersion cooling technologies – all of which use liquid to perform the heat exchange. This is a much more effective and cost-efficient method than air cooling.
At 4D we are one of the few colocation data centres in the country to offer both rear-door and immersion cooling options, putting us ahead of the curve in the UK. Other data centres will need to follow suit to keep up with the demands of these advanced technologies as their adoption increases.
Advanced technologies enable more advanced technologies
Speaking of cooling, Google is using AI technology to optimise cooling of its data centres. What started as a program that made recommendations to data centre operators has become an AI-controlled cooling program that uses real-time data and artificial intelligence to predict and action the optimum cooling parameters.
In time, we expect to see this technology become more widely available. In addition, new technologies are likely to arise with a similar aim – to make data centres (and by extension, data) more sustainable.
Data centres – the cornerstone of advanced technologies
IT systems and data centres are like a pair of feet, each taking one step at a time, enabling the continuation of this digital transformation journey we are all on. As they innovate, each system will support the other so that all of us can enjoy the benefits of super-fast internet, the IoT, AI and machine learning. If you want to explore some of these future technologies with an award-winning data centre, get in touch.