Optimising Robust Data Centre Strategies For 2024

The Foundation of a Successful Data Centre Strategy Lies in its Infrastructure, Encompassing Both Physical and IT Components

In today's digital age, data centres are critical infrastructure for businesses of all sizes. They house the servers, storage, and networking equipment that powers everything from websites and e-commerce platforms to cloud computing applications and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. As a result, businesses need to have a well-defined data strategy in place.

A successful data centre strategy encompasses a range of considerations, from infrastructure and security to efficiency and sustainability. An effective plan should clearly outline how an organisation will manage its data centre resources to meet and accommodate its business needs. It should consider factors such as the organisation's IT infrastructure, applications, data, and security requirements.

Implementing strategy across the board

Across enterprises, there are many areas where strategy plays a crucial role. From the physical infrastructure, which covers the building itself as well as the power, cooling, and network systems that support it, to the overall operational excellence, including the processes and practices that enable organisations to achieve consistently high levels of performance.

When it comes to the success of a facility, John Bidgood, CTO for Systal Technology Solutions, explains: “I learnt very quickly - the hard way - how business-critical data centres were. They had the highest SLAs (service level agreements) we had to meet as a support team. And if something broke day or night, a data centre outage was a level of support escalation like no other. 

“So many times, in my early career I was woken up at 3am to help fix data centre incidents. As I grew in my career and better understood the business criticality of these systems, I understood only too well the revenue or even reputational impact a major failure would have.”

Lewis White, Vice President of Enterprise Infrastructure - Europe at CommScope considers data centres to be so much more than a facility to centralise the customers’ IT operations. “They can mean success or failure in the support of operational demands and moreover the ability of an organisation to deliver services to their customers,” he says. “On top of this, they need to have the highest levels of reliability achieved through both the technologies deployed and the architectures behind how they are all hung together.”

The strategic role surrounding efficiency and sustainability 

Due to their nature, data centres consume a huge amount of energy, therefore it is vitally important to make these facilities as energy-efficient as possible. This can be done by utilising the latest technological advancements, such as more efficient servers, liquid cooling systems, and innovative data centre designs. As well as this, through the adoption of renewable and clean energy sources, such as solar or wind, data centre operators can significantly reduce their environmental impact and contribute to a more sustainable future.

“Data centres crave energy. That is indisputable,” explains White. “The International Energy Agency (IEA) suggest that they account for 1% of global electricity usage, however, they also represent a means to realise technologies and approaches that can allow organisations everywhere to become more efficient and, in turn, contribute to ESG goals.  

“Cloud computing and the data centres that support the cloud are much more likely to utilise renewable sources and have less Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) than instances of multiple local servers residing in older, lower-tech buildings. In an article published in Nature in 2020, it was suggested that moving IT to the cloud may just ‘hide’ emissions as it takes the onus on reporting away from the customer who is no longer generating emissions themselves. As regulation and expectation of transparency around emissions and carbon footprint increase in the cloud data centre space, this argument may become challenged.”

Bidgood considers the biggest area of IT spending to be on hosting infrastructures in data centres. “This is often around 40% of the typical IT budget,” he says. “In this 40%, the power and cooling costs of these centres are proportionally the biggest part. Even before the typical maintenance: network, security costs, and personnel costs. 

“Whilst these costs vary hugely from setup to setup, it is important that systems are hosted in such a way as to maximise power, cooling, and space efficiencies, while also ensuring the hardware is up to date to minimise demand on these facilities. Hyperconvergence of compute, storage, network, and security into a single consolidated hardware platform should be utilised as much as possible to minimise footprint.”

An increase in demand requires innovation

According to research by Clifford Chance, the pandemic fueled the growth of the global data centre market and is estimated to reach €235bn (US$254bn) by 2026 with a projected Compound Annual Growth Rate of 4.5%. The ever-increasing demand for data centres means that these facilities must constantly innovate to keep up with the changing demands and trends of the digital age. 

This includes investing in new technologies, such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI), which White believes has already made its mark in 2023. “AI has already had an impact on the major cloud providers who have moved quickly to provide specialist platforms to enable and maximise this tech, and large-scale enterprises should also think about how they will access high-performance computing platforms that support generative AI.”

Fred Lherault, Field CTO EMEA of Emerging Markets at Pure Storage believes the demand for greater efficiency and innovation in data centres will grow as capacity crunch hits. “Many organisations that are reliant on data centres are reporting that their most pressing issue right now is one of capacity,” he says. “A growing number of data centres are full and don’t have the space or power available to deploy new platforms.  

“In 2024, this will result in widespread efforts to achieve efficiency gains, even on existing data centre platforms, as this is the only way they will be able to reclaim space and power to accommodate the use of new technologies inside the data centre. To optimise the sustainability of existing data centre footprints, we’ll see operators looking to switch to new, more power-efficient technology, with smaller space and cooling requirements. This is in essence extending the life of the data centre - an essential factor when considering the need for new technologies in the wake of the rise of AI.”

How the future of strategy is evolving

The rapid advancement of AI and the growing demands of data analytics are placing immense pressure on traditional data centres, threatening their ability to meet the evolving needs of businesses. Bidgood explains, “With quicker adoption of AI and the requirements for computing data analytics whilst still meeting the necessary sustainability goals, the traditional data centre will be under even more threat. 

“Data centre operations, including the supporting network, have historically been manual and the pace will quicken to support even more automated operations in the future, both from a support and provisioning perspective.”

The future of data centres lies in a hybrid approach that combines the strengths of traditional models with emerging solutions. In the evolving landscape, the role of data centres will transform. Businesses must adopt a strategic mix of on-premises infrastructure, cloud services, and edge computing to achieve the desired balance of performance, scalability, and sustainability, as well as harness the power of data for innovation and growth.

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