Data centre trends – what’s in store for 2016?

Steve Evans

Thursday 23 July 2015

The more we use the cloud, the more we use smartphones and tablets, the more devices and sensors we connect to the internet, the more data we create… the more we will need to utilise data centres.

Data centres can range from huge facilities that power Facebook, Google and Amazon to co-location facilities that house business applications used by companies all over the world. In terms of size they can range from over one million square feet to just a few racks of servers in the basement of an office building.

With a predicted 50 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020, and cloud computing set to make up the bulk of IT spending by 2016, data centres are under more pressure than ever to deliver the power, storage and processing required to fuel our digital world. Any online activity passes through a data centre at some point.

And as those online activities increase, so will the requirements for data centres. According to Cisco’s Global Cloud Index, annual global data centre IP traffic will reach 8.6 zettabytes (ZB) by the end of 2018, up from 3.1 ZB per year in 2013. Data centre traffic will see a compound annual growth rate of 23 per cent from 2013 to 2018, according to the report.

“Most Internet traffic has originated or terminated in a data centre since 2008, when peer-to-peer traffic ceased to dominate the Internet application mix,” Cisco’s report states. “Data centre traffic will continue to dominate Internet traffic for the foreseeable future, but the nature of data centre traffic is undergoing a fundamental transformation brought about by cloud applications, services, and infrastructure.”

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at what was predicted for 2015, now that we are around the halfway point.

As mentioned above, the big trend affecting data centres was cloud computing. So far in 2015, there has been no sign of a slowdown in the adoption of cloud computing. Recent figures from the Cloud Industry Forum revealed that 84 per cent of UK businesses have adopted cloud computing in some form, and that means more traffic for data centres. You can read more about CIF’s research here.

IoT was another subject that was expected to dramatically impact data centres in 2015, with Gartner predicting that 2015 would see 4.9 billion devices connected to the Internet of Things.

As for the physical build of data centres themselves, one big trend predicted for 2015 was a move to more automated, software-defined data centres. This is where the intelligence of a system, whether it’s storage or networking, is moved from the hardware to the software. In software-defined networking this means routers and switches become cheap, commodity hardware, which is much better in terms of costs and flexibility.

On a similar theme, data centres are trending towards a more modular design – prefabricated components that enable much quicker scaling capabilities.

And for 2016? Well, it looks like it will be more of the same. Usage of cloud computing will continue to increase, and more and more devices will connect to the Internet of Things. Indeed, as the advantages of software-defined ‘hardware’ and a more modular design become clearer, it’s likely that adoption of these trends will continue throughout 2016 and beyond.

Security will be another big trend for 2016. The Edward Snowden revelations that began in 2013 caused many businesses to re-evaluate their IT security provisions. Data centre providers were no different, and as we approach 2016 it is expected that data centre security will continue to evolve to ensure customer data is kept secure. It could even be something as simple as ensuring that all traffic moving between data centres is encrypted, as both Google and Yahoo have done.

Most of these developments in the tech industry will lead to even more data being created, and that data will need to be stored, accessed and analysed. That places great pressure on data centres to meet the increased compute, storage and power demands. On that last point it is predicted that data centres will indeed be examining their power requirements and whether or not they will be able to meet them going forward.

The task of being able to meet increasing power demands without increasing costs or negatively impacting the environment will result in more natural cooling techniques being implemented – cool air or seawater, for example.

The data centre of the future will be one where most elements are virtualised – servers, network, storage, even applications – and pulled together into a unified platform through automation. It’ll be one that has massive compute and storage power but a low carbon footprint. We may not get there in 2016, but these trends will definitely be heading that way.