People ask me to make predictions on a pretty regular basis – and I hate doing so. All predictions come with risk and I would much rather leave them to the experts, like Nostradamus.
After all, I’m still waiting for my favorite predictions to come true. Back in 1951, the folks at Popular Mechanics believed every family would have at least one helicopter in their garage in the 21st century. Where do I sign up and how can I get a bigger garage overnight? And the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke, said in 1966 that houses would be able to fly by 2020! As someone who works for an international company with colleagues fanned out across the globe, I find the ability to relocate my house anywhere very attractive. I hold out hope that someday, a team of dedicated engineers, billionaires, and magicians makes it happen.
So, given that 2020 has been anything but regular, I’ve decided to dip my toe into the predictions business. With an eye toward better things in 2021, here are some insights – if not full-fledged predictions – for the data center industry.
#1: 5G will remain a dilemma and mystery
The hype swirling around 5G will continue in 2021, as the reality of where the deployment is, and the actual observed performance, will remain a mystery. If you’re curious about the complexities, check out this article for some background.
Over time, I believe 5G will unlock new use cases given the increased bandwidth and lower latency the technology promises. It will undoubtedly continue to enable our reliance on IT and accelerate digital transformation. 5G is a wild card as to its impact on edge computing and all the complexities that brings, as well as sustainability challenges. All this I believe to be true… but there remains the dilemma of the missing ‘killer app’ while an enormous investment is still needed. If only the ‘killer app’ use case was known! 5G will hopefully become less murky in 2021, but the mystery and the dilemma will remain.
#2: Increased maturity of service offerings and software predictive capabilities will drive market adoption of new business models and software architectures
At Schneider Electric, we’ve been working very hard to develop the software analytics, software management tools, and service capabilities we believe will be necessary in the future to enable a resilient and sustainable edge.
This transformation started a few years ago and we are advancing the maturity of the offers rapidly. We must overcome barriers to market adoption: customers need to become comfortable with sharing data via the cloud and understand the different business models. Our new videocast series Executive Insights has featured the ways companies have had to rethink and accelerate their digital strategies because of the pandemic. I believe this experience in 2020 will drive faster adoption of these new approaches to manage and service the hybrid IT environment.
#3: More emphasis will be placed on the last mile of connection and its resiliency now that work includes your home
Like many of us, I think work-from-home in some form is here to stay along with increased internet use in our homes, especially if you have children who are learning, gaming, socializing, or working online. If there is one thing that can bring your household’s productivity to a halt as fast as a power outage, it’s inadequate bandwidth.
In the words of our Executive Insights videocast guest Julia White, CVP of Microsoft Azure, “We’ve seen two years of digital transformation in our customers happen in two months.” And now that transformation is not just knocking at your door, it’s pounding on it.
To enable the shift from office and school to home, the last mile of connection – the internet connection into your house – takes on increased importance. It requires a collaborative ecosystem working together to build the data center and network needed to support our new culture and it must be as resilient as the data center and network. It cannot be the weak link. I believe the last mile of connection has become just as essential as your electrical connection and its resiliency will be an area of emphasis is 2021.
#4: The energy challenge at the edge will begin to emerge as edge computing deployments for our contactless, touch-free way of life become permanent
When I venture out, perhaps to a restaurant for take out, I no longer walk in and speak to someone who takes my order. I stand outside the restaurant, ordering from my phone – in one case in the pouring rain because COVID-19 restrictions prevented me from entering. And it’s a similar experience when you go on public transportation, take a flight, use curbside pickup at a store, and the list goes on.
This ‘touchless experience’ will be here to stay. The technology behind it will be significant, from high definition cameras to facial recognition systems, utilizing a lot of information. As a result, we expect to see a large-scale deployment of edge data centers to process this information closer to the user. At Schneider Electric, we estimate that millions of new micro data centers will be installed in the next five years. In line with this estimate, edge data centers are expected to start consuming more energy than larger data centers in the next five-to-ten years. This energy challenge will take time to gain widespread attention. However, it will take on increasing importance and visibility in 2021, and in future years, as we work on making it easier to design and deploy sustainable edge data centers at scale.
Insight to these future predictions – watch Executive Insights
Earlier this year, we launched our Executive Insights videocast to hear from experts in the data center and buildings industries about the challenges and opportunities that come with all things digital. Many of the topics I touch on in this blog are discussed in greater detail and from different points of view and I encourage you to check it out and subscribe to the video series.