The last couple of decades have witnessed countless technological breakthroughs, experiencing a widespread acceptance of all things digital. Recent advancements made in the fields of AI (artificial intelligence), ML (machine learning), IoT and Big Data are further fuelling this digital transformation. The fulcrum of this entire transformation, however, is driven by one thing - data. If you have heard the phrase ‘data is the new oil’ quite frequently these days, that is because it is true. But unlike the natural resource, data is abundantly available, and being generated in trillions every day. Industry estimates suggest over 90 per cent of the world’s data was produced in the last two years alone. According to a recent ICD report, the global datasphere is likely to grow from 23 zettabytes in 2017 to 175 zettabytes by 2025. To put things in perspective; one zettabyte is equivalent to a trillion gigabytes!
As we enter the 4th Industrial revolution, driven entirely by data, traditionally architected data centres are fast losing their value. Research firm Gartner predicts that by 2020, around 80 per cent of enterprises will do away with on-premises data centres entirely. The reasons behind this are quite simple.
With the skyrocketing numbers of internet users across the globe, data is being generated at a break-neck pace. Traditional data centres, however, are not equipped to handle such large volumes. A 2015 study by Stanford’s Jonathan Koomey revealed that enterprise data centre servers can only deliver, on average, between 5 and 15 per cent of their maximum computing output over the course of one year. This limitation alone makes them redundant for future purposes. In effect, while a few enterprise clients will continue to use them for particular services, many of today’s data centres will soon become a thing of the past.
The limitations of traditional data centres, however, have given rise to the demand for a simplified and more adaptive infrastructure that is capable to improve both resource utilization and response time. With new technologies like AI, ML, cloud computing and IoT coming into the scene, new-age centres are not constrained by spatial limitations. Rather, new data centres are a dynamic collection of indefinite sets of cloud as well as non-cloud resources, offering instant, seamless responsiveness and greater agility.
Trends driving the future of data centres
In the IT world, nearly everything is virtualized and then delivered. This explains why the next-generation of data centres won’t be controlled manually, but by software programmed to make hardware decisions without any human assistance. This software-defined environment optimizes the scalability, flexibility and storage of the data centres. In simpler words, it successfully transforms a static IT infrastructure into a dynamic one.
Edge computing has become a buzzword of sorts in the modern IT environments, with I&O leaders worldwide realizing the requirement of a decentralized system that can efficiently process data from anywhere. As defined by CISCO, edge computing brings processing close to the data source, and it does not need to be sent to a remote cloud or other centralized systems for processing.
Edge computing essentially eliminates the need for localized computing power. As quoted by Ross Winser, Senior Director, Analyst at Gartner, “This is another trend that does not replace the cloud, but augments it.”
Artificial intelligence, if deployed strategically and paired with human oversight, can improve efficiency as well as the scalability of data centres. In fact, 30 per cent of data centres that fail to incorporate AI into their systems may not be operationally and economically viable by 2020. AI-powered predictive analytics, for one, can be used to manage growing workloads and bridge the skills gap. AI can also help in mitigating energy waste, which is a major concern in the 21st century. Its impact can be gauged from the fact that Google, arguably the world’s most efficiency-optimized workplace, has already deployed AI in its data centres to conserve energy. As per Google officials, the company has managed to reduce its data centres’ cooling system energy consumption by 40% by adopting new-age mechanisms.
Open source software
The new-age data centres are built on open source software. Open source software enables organizations to achieve increased interoperability between traditional and cloud models. Open source offerings also facilitate seamless integration of today’s hybrid infrastructures, enabling organizations to strengthen their legacy in the software-defined environment.
Harnessing the power of digital transformation and the changing roles of CIOs
The IT industry is undergoing a massive transformation – both at an operational and administrative level. Macro IT trends such as artificial intelligence, big data, cloud and IoT are fundamentally changing the role of data centres while enabling super-efficient and quick processing of data. Google has been using machine learning, one of the most popular applications of AI, to ‘better data centres’. This includes optimization of the IT workload. Simultaneously, predictive analysis has helped in PUE (a measure of energy efficiency) improvement. Edge computing is another emerging trend that has taken the data centre industry by storm. It basically optimizes cloud computing systems by processing data near the data generation source. Although it is still a nascent technology, edge computing has proved to be truly efficient in reducing costs, lowering latency levels and allowing faster processing of data. That means more agile, scalable and flexible data centres.
Modern enterprises need not only assess these trends but also take proactive measures to stay ahead of the curve. But, how does the digital transformation affect the roles of CIOs? With multiple new technological components to deal with, CIOs of today can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. They need to ensure that their data centres are agile and adaptive enough to withstand this digital transformation. While taking a cloud-first strategy is necessary, CIOs must possess a strong vision to ensure a smooth transition.
Web-scale data centres transforming the IT world
In order to accelerate the transformation of traditional data centres, enterprises all over the world have taken the web-scaling route. Tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Amazon have embraced a web-scale networking model to create a flexible, resilient and scalable IT infrastructure. However, it’s not just for large-scale enterprises. The open environment of web-scale data centres makes it easy to build a unified stack that allows for seamless communication flow. Moreover, the reason organizations are turning to web-scales is the scope for customization. Unlike enterprise data centres, web-scale data centres are adaptive and open to change.
Tackling the challenges of digital transformation
Realizing the promise of digital transformation, companies have started replacing archaic methods of data storage with more sophisticated systems (public and private cloud) that can perform the same function but in a far more efficient manner. However, this is just barely scratching the surface when it comes to leveraging the true potential of digital transformation. Despite considering the host of benefits, the transition from traditional data centres to new-age data centres brings forth several challenges. Enterprises can’t simply focus on the technology part; they need to take a holistic approach that involves complete re-engineering their business. It calls for a complete transformation of the IT infrastructure, which begins by accepting the need to change first. When an enterprise has decided to upgrade their data centres and identified a blueprint, the rest of the process becomes easier, involving abstraction, automation and orchestration of all the components. To achieve this, organizations will need to adopt a phased approach. While the change may come at some cost, those who succeed in making this transition will be far ahead of its competitors and position themselves on good ground to utilize future opportunities.