The New-Age Data Centres and What to Expect

The entire pre-existing arguments against cloud adoption fell flat due to the pandemic. The entire workforce moved to working remotely. This taught our next lesson that our infrastructure should be flexible and scalable, which means the data centres now need new efficiency and sustainability as it is now in the centre of every IT decision-making process. However, with a greater reliance on data centre operators as we adapt to the new world of work, efficiency will become a bigger indicator.


I asked Ashish Modi, Vice President & GM, Honeywell Building Technologies - India, ASEAN, Korea, to know what will be the future of new-age data centres, the challenges and the sustainability. I also spoke to him regarding securing the data centres of tomorrow.


What does the Future Hold for New-Age Data Centres?

The future for data centres is growth. In the past decade, the number of worldwide internet users has doubled, and internet traffic has grown about 30 percent per year. As more people become connected and adopt cloud-based solutions and advancements like 5G, the demand for data centres will continue to increase. In order to meet this demand, data centres need solutions that help to drive uptime, improve energy efficiency and meet corporate sustainability goals while providing modularity and agility. They need to be able to scale to meet demand quickly as situations change – for example, from February – April of this year, there was a 40 percent increase in global internet demand due to lockdowns. Data centres need partners that allow them to address changes quickly.


Many data centres have multiple domains and systems to help the facilities operate. In the future, more data centres will seek a single source of truth for this data across these domains to standardize operations and improve workflows. Better data leads to better decision making. The data centre of the future will also be more energy efficient as corporate and social goals can often be implemented at the design stage, such as low impact service, enhanced environmental credibility, and a scalable infrastructure that can support future growth.


Already, we are looking at micro-grid solutions for data centres to enable more efficient integration of alternative energy sources such as solar arrays, fuel cells and batteries. This also offers a scalable approach for operators to quickly enhance functionality and improve total cost of ownership, all while maintaining the data centre uptime requirements. The way forward is to work on an intelligent power management solution that features an energy resource management and supervisory control system in a single, integrated platform.


What are the Challenges Faced by Data Centres?

Data centres have one common goal: maintain uptime. They have a critical need to quickly address customer demand without failure.  There is an increasing awareness that the data centre industry has a growing carbon footprint. As such, there are calls to minimize its power consumption while optimizing resiliency. So how do data centre owners and facility managers cater to growing demand, while at the same time lowering energy usage and eliminate downtime?


Today’s data centres need to be safer and more secure for both their assets and employees. They must be more resilient against unscheduled downtime to support business continuity. And be capable of optimizing operational efficiencies and energy management.


To further desired outcomes, the data centre industry should work closely with specialist companies, such as Honeywell, that have a track record of providing the products and services needed to deliver optimal results, now and in the future.


Any approach that starts to solve this problem often has the additional benefit of reducing overheads and protecting bottom line performance. The good news is that energy reduction of up to 15 percent can often be achieved through an integrated approach to building management.


In addition to sustainability challenges, an Uptime Institute study revealed that approximately 88 percent of data centre downtime was caused by human error and mechanical failures. Given that on average a single minute of server downtime costs nearly $9,000, it is crucial to reduce unscheduled stoppage as much as possible.


So how can facilities maintain uptime and business continuity? A fully featured building management installation often provides an integrated point of control, delivering clear information, communication and data processing for more reliable building automation and supervision. Also, gaining insights into a system’s performance capabilities typically makes it increasingly possible to identify efficiencies and reduce potential outages as well as optimize security, fire and safety procedures.


Under-Water Data Centres – do you see it as a Viable Solution and how is the industry moving towards it?

That’s a great question. Right now, we’re only seeing under-water data centres being explored by one company, but we’ll continue to research and evaluate the landscape if that continues to grow.


Sustainability is Prime. How are the Data Centres working towards achieving this?

The largest consumer of energy within a data centre is the core IT. Server consolidation can help reduce energy use, but the building itself can also play a significant role in energy management.


It is, therefore, advisable to investigate some simple structural steps that could help reduce energy consumption. Fortunately, as far as energy saving is concerned, a reduction of between 10-15 percent can be achieved by optimizing the way cooling for the IT load is managed.


Condition-based Maintenance (CBM) can help optimize the operation of ventilation systems, air handling units and chillers by using machine learning. Upgrades to existing systems can help deliver valuable savings.  By being better able to monitor and control building services, facilities managers can leverage modern advances in building management technology. Although this may seem complex, it’s likely that many of the core elements will already be in place.


The answer to optimizing data centre sustainability, resiliency and operational performance is an intelligent power management solution that features an energy resource management and supervisory control system in a single, integrated platform. Combining energy storage, analytics, forecasting and economic optimization, the solution provides data centres with intelligent and autonomous selection of energy sources and grid services to operate a data centre load and reduce energy costs while maintaining uptime requirements. This can help data centres meet availability requirements while optimizing energy costs, meeting corporate sustainability goals and reducing overall carbon footprint. It will also allow operators to better manage sustainability targets and account for external risk factors such as weather and grid reliability.


Data Centres and the Hackers – how to deal, secure and seal data centres from any attack?

Due to the immense value and commercial sensitivity associated with the data stored and transferred, it’s essential that data centres have a strategy to reduce the risks of cyberattacks. Aside from the reputational damage a facility might face after a breach, the cost implications can be vast. The average cost of a data breach is $3.92 million. Operational Technology (OT) –systems that monitor, control and protect processes, equipment and operational environments – can be an entry point and require similar or more care in today’s ever-connected technology landscape as the IT system. It’s important that data centres take a secure-by-design approach, install cybersecurity appliances and software, enable remote monitoring and management, and importantly, have a cybersecurity incident readiness process to enable more efficient containment, triage and resolution to regain normal business operations in the event of an incident.


Data centre managers also need to take a proactive approach to the physical safety and security of data centres. Multi-layer security, combined with advanced gas, smoke and early lithium-ion battery off-gas detection technology, alongside CCTV and the ability to manage critical incidents via an integrated command and control suite (CCS), is often essential. The ability to manage alarms from integrated security and life safety systems on a single platform coupled with rapid response mechanisms can help minimize the effects of a system going down due to an event.