For 2022, any predictions must contend with a backdrop of economic uncertainty. There are worrying headwinds around inflation and supply chain issues, not to mention a lack of clarity about how we will economically exit COVID and the impact of worldwide lockdowns. It is important to keep this uncertainty in mind as we examine what is coming down the line for the data center industry.
The Emergence of Hybrid Cooling
Technology roadmaps point to one thing - the disruption of high-density, high-power racks running hotter chips required for data analytics and machine learning algorithms. These applications are pushing the boundaries of data center infrastructure as a whole, but traditional air cooling in particular. The shift from air to liquid cooling is beginning to accelerate.
Data center operators, however, have invested considerable sums of money into their data center environments. It is unrealistic to think the switch from air to liquid cooling will be an all or nothing proposition. We believe the data center is going to remain rack based for decades to come.
What this is going to require then are hybrid solutions. Many operators maximize their floor and rack space with fully populated racks optimized to run as efficiently as possible. If one unit has to become larger to allow more air to cool it, then every full rack would need to be depopulated by for example, 1U across thousands of racks. Not exactly a fun game of data center Tetris.
Chassis-level liquid cooling solutions, however, enable racks to be cooled in an industry standard form factor. They can scale from a single chassis upwards and can easily accommodate the increasing heat loads from the latest processor roadmaps and manage them effectively. Liquid cooling offers a practical opportunity to build on the heritage of the past, enabling data center operators the chance to use their air-cooled infrastructure and repurpose those assets for the future. It makes much more sense to retrofit in order to adopt AI technologies and utilize your existing install more efficiently. There are of course significant extra benefits in removing stranded capacity and re-invigorating older data centres.
Realizing the Economic Benefit of AI
Companies worldwide are beginning to understand the economic benefit of AI. It’s not unrealistic to say we are entering a period where decisions around our data centers will be less technology based and more business driven. The value the AI application brings to the business could begin to outweigh technology considerations, as long as the value can be proven. Consider, for example, medical imaging and the ability to diagnose diseases earlier and with more precision, the benefit far outweighs the costs. Equally superfast decisions affecting FinTech greatly affect the adoption of AI. We will see more and more companies begin to explore these options in 2022.
Accountability for Greenwashing
We are living at a point in time where political, ethical and societal changes are forcing ever greater focus on clean energy. The data center sits at the heart of this discussion. In some locations because of the amount of energy they consume. In others because of the green benefits they are enabling with smart devices in smart cities.
The importance of delivering real, sustainable solutions is paramount. Greenwashing, where corporate sustainability or carbon offset programs that are more about checking a box and not implementing real change, will no longer be tolerated. The backlash will be swift and harsh and is likely to come from the younger generations who will not permit unacceptable compromises on this issue, particularly as they move into the workforce and begin making purchasing decisions at a corporate level. In addition, responsible investment funds are now insisting on strong Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) plans from businesses before they invest. With pressure from customers, employees and investors, it will become more important than ever to ensure we are using our natural resources well and for the right purpose.
While 2022 is likely to be, yet another, unpredictable year with plenty of surprises, there are many opportunities that lie ahead of us. Whenever we are faced with uncertainty, organizations can choose to innovate or hunker down and weather the storm. The companies which innovate during a downturn are the ones that bounce out of that downturn in the strongest position. In the conversations I have with colleagues around the industry, the enthusiasm for what lies ahead makes me confident this will be a year of innovation.