How the Internet of Things affects the data center

An enormous amount of processing and storage capacity is needed to keep pace with the Internet of Things.


This article has been peer-reviewed.Learning objectives

  • Learn how the Internet of Things affects engineers.
  • Understand how the connection of devices will affect data centers.
  • Know how the Internet of Things will affect energy requirements.

The Internet of Things (IoT): an intriguing yet enigmatic term that affects roughly 2 billion people who live their day-to-day lives in some degree of dependence on the Internet. What is IoT? Simply put, IoT is the trend of connecting physical objects to the digital world. The term has been used increasingly in the last few years but was actually coined in 1999-still in the early stages of the Internet. Today, the information technology industry is in a constant state of change, shaping and being shaped by the needs of business,research, and private citizens (just to name a few). The most visible examples are the devices we use in everyday life, such as mobile phones, computers, smart watches, home security systems, automobile sensors, and the list goes on. These devices are not stand-alone. They connect to-and have bidirectional communications with-servers and storage devices located in some faraway data center.But here's the clincher: according to Gartner, 25 billion devices will be connected to the IoT installed by 2020. This means a lot of processing and storage capability is needed, and needed in different ways and different times than what is currently practiced.


Figure 1: At the current pace of Internet and digital device growth, the amount of data processed per year continues to skyrocket. All graphics and tables courtesy: HP Data Center Facilities ConsultingHow is the IoT shaping our current and future lives? The use of social media, cloud storage, and mobile devices is the triumvirate that rules our daily lives. It is common to take a picture, upload it to a cloud storage site, and post it on a social media site. This is just a typical example of how we are connected to the digital world. But people also use their smartphones to pay bills, deposit checks, play music, scan a document, look up a movie review, pay for parking, order dinner, check out a library book, and gather key stats from a workout, to name a few. None of these things are particularly interesting or out of the ordinary. But the routineness of these activities drives home the point: As a society, we have become so dependent on our digital lives that we are craving for increasingly more of our current analog activities to be replaced by computer-based solutions. Consequently, our reliance on the IoT will continue to grow at a rapid pace (see Figure 1).

While this has significant implications on servers, storage appliances, and networking gear, it also impacts the data center cooling and power systems, specifically the systems' scalability, capacity, and provisioning capabilities. To provide the required power and cooling to keep the IoT whirring along,building services must keep pace with the digital world; there is no choice but to comply. In fact,according to a National Research Council report, next-generation computing platforms will have a greater reliance on redundancy and fault tolerance as the rate of performance improvements begins to slow as Moore's Law comes to an end in the next decade. And if done properly, with tight integration with the IT realm, there will be reductions (not simply efficiency gains) in overall data center energy use, while providing better computing ability. Power and cooling systems are at the "end of the pipe" while the IT systems are at the beginning. Any reduction in energy use to run servers, storage devices, and networking gear will cascade down and increase energy efficiency of power and cooling systems. This is the key message: The IoT will increase society's access to the digital world and can reduce the energy required as compared to today's standards.


Based on improvements of IT hardware over the last decade, data center systems must adapt to operating at different workloads while maintaining energy efficiency and reliability. In electronics(including hardware, communication, and software), scalability is the ability of a system, network, or process to handle a growing amount of work in a capable manner or its ability to be enlarged to accommodate that growth. But scalability is a pretty slippery term. Not only can it be applied differently in multiple industries, but its meaning can vary within a particular industry. To confuse matters even more,we can talk about scaling "up" and scaling "out." For a business that relies heavily on computing capability, the demands of the business will outpace the ability of the computing system, potentially compromising the company's mission. In this situation, scaling of the IT systems is necessary.But in the context of the IoT, how can we scale? Scaling "out"-in simple terms-means to add more nodes (computers, storage, etc.) to the system. Scaling "up"-also in simple terms-means to build up on a single node within the system, like expanding memory or adding more processors. These two concepts of scalability have different implications for power and cooling systems in the data center. Scaling outproduces an extensive power and cooling delivery requirement (more space, lower IT power density),while scaling up will produce an intensive requirement (less space, higher IT power density).

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