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From hardware to staffing, data centers evolved significantly in the past year, in ways that will continue to affect IT teams now and into the future.
Data centers play an increasing role in the growing digital economy. Cloud and data center markets continue to mature, as companies more deeply understand their computing needs. Nearly 60% of business leaders reported a move away from the public cloud in favor of colocation and private data centers in 2021, according to research from AFCOM, a provider of educational resources for data professionals.
AFCOM also reports that more companies in 2021, as compared to previous years, integrated automation and AI into their data center ecosystems to create more intelligent, autonomous systems. Distributed systems, multi-tenant and hyperscale setups also became more popular, while rack density increased.
Data center hardware advancements
According to Synergy Research Group, Amazon, Microsoft and Google own more than 50% of the world's largest data centers, with plans to expand further. In 2021, Microsoft said it plans to expand its Azure data center regions globally by at least 50 data centers each year.
Chip manufacturers, including Intel, AMD and Nvidia, also rolled out new technologies in 2021. Intel launched its third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable CPUs, and AMD launched its third-generation Epyc Milan processors. Nvidia introduced an Arm-based data center CPU, the Nvidia Grace CPU. These processors advanced speed, agility, acceleration and performance in customer data center systems. However, Nvidia's Grace CPU, for example, won't ship until 2023 at the earliest.
Increasing rack density in the modern data center also became a bigger challenge in 2021. It increases power consumption and cooling costs, as well as the outage risk from power failure. One report from the Uptime Institute found that 43% of all data center outages in 2021 were caused by power problems. Data center teams should keep an eye on density and power usage effectiveness (PUE) across hardware devices.
Data center software advancements
The global pandemic accelerated the need for data centers to rely less on human intervention. Data center staff across the world started to use more intelligent, autonomous systems for simple tasks, and deployed distributed environments to increase automation capabilities.
As distributed architectures spread more rapidly across the landscape in 2021, data centers required new workload, application and data delivery approaches. Organizations implemented edge software and expanded data center infrastructure management software to include data-driven features, AI integration and augmented reality.
To combat the increasing effect of data centers on the environment, many facility owners turned to new software to manage server use and performance. Such software includes infrastructure management, virtualization and container technologies to optimize server utilization, manage PUE and monitor power consumption.
According to the Uptime Institute report, facility owners and cloud providers trail other industries in their efforts to monitor climate impact. Many facility owners and cloud service providers monitor their PUE, because it's their largest operational facility cost. Yet over half don't track their water use, 33% are unaware of their carbon footprint and one-quarter don't track their e-waste lifecycles.
Changes in the data center workplace
Following the scramble to staff data centers at the start of the pandemic, even the wariest managers have started to embrace remote monitoring tools and automated systems. Facilities teams and cloud vendors have implemented AI technology to simplify infrastructure management and reduce the amount of data center staff on site. For example, machines with locomotive capabilities can collect security data through infrared devices, cameras, radars, thermal sensors and LiDAR.
Data center staffing was a challenge in 2021. As part of their staffing efforts, data center managers took a hard look at their staff demographics. Leaders continue to seek out good talent to support their growing business requirements.
The pandemic showed how critical it is to attract a younger and more diverse workforce. According to the AFCOM report, 90% of data center staff are 45 years old or older, and 50% have been working in the industry for 10 or more years. Continuing to meet the needs of a digital-first economy and workforce requires more investment in training and new staff. Otherwise, the industry could face a shrinking workforce and higher competition.