A row of servers inside a data center for Rackspace. (Image: Rackspace)
Today we continue our Data Center Executive Roundtable, a quarterly feature showcasing the insights of thought leaders on the state of the data center industry, and where it is headed. In today’s discussion, our panel of experienced data center executives weighs in on enterprise data center demand as the U.S. recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our panelists include Andrew Schaap from Aligned, Phillip Marangella of EdgeConneX, Vertiv’s John Hewitt, Kevin Facinelli from Nortek, Iron Mountain’s Michael DeVito, Katie O’Hara of Stream Data Centers and Infrastructure Masons, and Eric Jensen from Data Aire.
The conversation is moderated by Rich Miller, the founder and editor of Data Center Frontier. Each day this week we will present a Q&A with these executives on one of our key topics. Here’s today’s discussion:
Data Center Frontier: How have enterprise data center needs evolved during the pandemic? What do you expect for 2021?
Eric Jensen, Data Aire: The pandemic was an immediate stress test on IT – on the hardware and the software, both distributed (ie: users) and the data center. Many enterprises were, understandably, caught off guard. One of the most basic impacts was trying to make up for users’ connectivity challenges as much as possible at the applications and at the data center. Anything that could be done at the architecture to improve operational efficiency was needed to improve the UX (user experience).
One interesting thing to watch over the next 1-2 years might be how the enterprise architecture may change in response to a more distributed workforce long-term, as many larger organizations are choosing not to return to the office. That’s leading many to relocate because an office commute is no longer a consideration. Does the large enterprise need start to look more like average consumer consuming or computing cloud content?
More immediately, enterprises have quickly sought to refresh their infrastructure or just shore it up with a bit more failsafe – the old “we can’t control the universe but we can control our response to it.”
Phillip Marangella, EdgeConneX: Like everyone, enterprises had to adapt during the pandemic, and one impact they saw was more investment in the digital transformation process, from remote workers to a heavier reliance on cloud-based services, and both a need and an opportunity for so many companies to compete globally. Data center providers saw these changes and responded with more choice, more flexibility, and more automation, enabling customers to manage their all of their deployments remotely via a single pane of glass.
We see these trends continuing and accelerating throughout the next 12 to 18 months as enterprises use more cloud and XaaS services and as they look for ways to expand their own markets and product portfolios. Data centers will be processing more workloads, more data, more video, more machine learning and serving as facilitators for a global transformation in business, even smaller or more regional enterprises. Data centers are becoming part of an infrastructure fabric of capacity, connectivity, power, and proximity that is empowering enterprises to take advantage of the location, the scale, and the economics that work for them
Michael DeVito, Iron Mountain: It goes without saying that the pandemic rapidly sped up enterprise adoption of cloud and other digital technologies. Both B2B and B2C consumers were forced to rely solely on online, digital platforms and channels to communicate, sell and transact business. Data center providers benefitted from the digital adoption and demand surge and we don’t see that changing any time soon. The pandemic certainly tested the data center industry as a whole and we proved that we were able to keep the digital economy connected, powered and thriving.
While we don’t expect to see the reactive surge of growth that we saw last year, we do expect to see strong continual growth as enterprises have witnessed the advantages, benefits and peace of mind that come from partnering with a data center provider.
John Hewitt, Vertiv: The pandemic has accelerated a migration to the edge of the network that has been happening for several years. When the pandemic hit early last year, the global workforce moved online en masse, and supporting that volume of remote work and computing required fast, reliable, and secure computing close to those workers – in the suburbs and rural areas, removed from traditional computing centers and enterprise data centers. This was happening already due to different drivers, but the pandemic put it on fast forward.
Meanwhile, 5G launched and continues to roll out, and that technology is reliant on IT systems at the edge of the network. It is an overstatement to say the traditional enterprise data center is being phased out, but those facilities are changing – shrinking and becoming more efficient while acting as the hub for new hybrid architectures leaning on the cloud and edge. This will continue in 2021 and accelerate as 5G proliferates.
Kevin Facinelli, Nortek Data Center Cooling: Remote working during the pandemic significantly increased network traffic and all the demands associated with it, such as larger heat loads. These demands are pushing a shift in which businesses running their own enterprise data centers, which may not be their expertise, are looking to other solutions, such as outsourcing these emerging demands to colocations and hyperscale operators.
However, those businesses looking to continue managing their own enterprise systems are looking for more simplification to accommodate growing IT demands. One way to simplify data center management is to commission vendors that have the comprehensive complement of equipment that’s needed for a task, such as cooling. Instead of a collection of different cooling equipment vendors, we see enterprise operators looking for vendors that supply everything from a self-contained cooling plant to the cooling terminal units, such as fan coil walls, rear door heat exchangers, cold plate chip coolers and computer room air handlers (CRAH). In other words, they want a single-source-responsibility type of vendor with a service network to support it.
Andrew Schaap, Aligned: While many predicted larger enterprises to hit a temporary pause on deployments due to COVID-19, we saw an uptick in the funnel. Additionally, we saw sustainability and efficiency as key demand drivers.
We expect this uptick in demand and data center investment to continue in 2021 onwards, as more enterprises move towards digitization and weigh the benefits and challenges of colocation against cloud-first.
Katie O’Hara, Infrastructure Masons and Stream Data Centers: In 2020, most of the enterprise activity was the expansion of existing footprints. In 2021, we’ve seen a major uptick in enterprise clients seeking to deploy in new sites and markets — often with projects that were temporarily put on hold during the height of the pandemic.
NEXT: What lies ahead for edge computing?
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