Five emerging data center trends

Andy Baxter, PE, Page principal and director of MEP engineering discusses five emerging data center trends.

By Andy Baxter, PE, Page March 1, 2017

In the past 8 years alone, Page has designed more than 35 data centers valued at more than $3.75 billion and ranging from Uptime Institute Tier II to Tier IV designs. The mission critical team is very familiar with the pressures to move at warp speed while remaining at the forefront of advances in facility design and construction. The following are the most current data center trends that we are seeing.

Trend No. 1: The cloud

More enterprise-level users are migrating their information technology (IT) portfolios to the cloud. Even functions such as high-performance computing (HPC), which owners previously were adamant about keeping in-house, are moving to cloud vendors specializing in HPC applications. Concerns about security and intellectual property protections are still issues to overcome, but they appear to be less of a worry than previously. This is because improvements in these areas are significant enough to assuage an owner’s concern—or the cost savings of the cloud has changed priorities.

Trend No. 2: edge data centers 

Latency concerns can be overcome by building data centers closer to the end user, or the edge of the network. Traditionally, data centers have been located in remote areas within larger regional markets, such as Virginia, Texas, Colorado and Arizona. Content providers still have large data centers in these major markets, but now they will also have an edge data center in smaller regional markets and perhaps a micro-data center within many cities. As a result, we are pursuing work all over the country. The facilities are much more compact, repeatable and cost-efficient—sometimes, they are as small as a single rack.

Trend No. 3: PUEs leveling out

In a never-ending quest to reduce electricity operating costs through more efficient mechanical design, owners are focusing more than ever on innovative solutions. But it is becoming a cycle of diminishing returns: Facility designs below 1.5 power usage effectiveness (PUE) are common. Getting as low as 1.2 PUE to 1.3 PUE also is achievable, even at a reasonable premium. Many of our clients are looking at reducing total power consumption, and this is causing them to push back on IT vendors to provide more efficient equipment. Decreased IT power consumption also diminishes the power required for the environmental systems cooling the equipment, which reduces the total power consumption of the facility by more than just the reduced IT load.

Trend No. 4: smart reliability 

Typically, Page has been sought out by clients for highly redundant data center designs. In the past, the reliability was provided through capital-intensive Tier III and IV facilities. If there is an equipment failure, today’s resilient networks and software provide much of the reliability by rolling over data to another server or to a geographically isolated facility. Also, clients now make more informed decisions about how much reliability they really need. They are no longer building one-size-fits-all facilities and are opting to have varying levels of reliability within the same facility. As a result, more data centers are now designed with more traditional mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems for a lower cost. For example, older designs typically used chilled-water plants while current designs are using rooftop units.

Trend No. 5: EMP/IEMI

from electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and/or intentional electromagnetic interference (IEMI) attacks is discussed more and more. This has been especially true on facilities that are deemed critical to public safety and health, either by the government or other regulatory agencies. Recently, we have completed shielding designs for power-company control facilities and 911 emergency call centers.

As enterprise-level data centers continue to migrate more of their portfolios to the cloud, data center design and construction is moving to support the colocation industry that provides these services. Low profit margins, the never-ending drive for lower capital costs and an increase in the number of competing smaller firms force us to always be on the lookout for the next cost-effective innovation.

Andy Baxter, PE, is principal, mission critical at Page. Page is a CFE Media content partner.

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