We are beginning a new year and of course, everyone is looking ahead to see what they can expect. It’s the time to set new goals, reevaluate current ambitions, and just reflect on what has happened and is to come.
And focusing on data centers in particular, 2024 looks like it’s going to be a very interesting year. A lot happened in 2023 which already brought many changes and developments in the data center world. Many of them will now have to expand and prove themselves in 2024. We can also expect many more new developments coming in and of course, the ever growing need for hardware resources, increasing usage of digital services and AI. So much AI.
This will continue to drive data center operators to further improve their facilities and fast. There’s no time left to waste. Changes and improvements must happen now as the hunger for data centers has never been so big – and will continue to be high for a while. This opens great opportunities for manufacturers, operators and even clients to make the most of it and position themselves even better on the market. It won’t be easy though, as there are some big challenges and trends to tackle. Let’s explore them.
It’s no surprise that AI is going to be everywhere, including data centers. In 2023, AI already forced a lot of changes in data centers, and we should expect this to continue and further expand in 2024. As the usage of AI rises, so will the need for resources. Thus, data centers must accommodate this, especially considering that most AI projects require special hardware. This is why some companies build AI-specific data centers and that’s another sub-trend we can expect to continue in 2024.
AI will also force a lot of related innovations in data centers, some of which we will mention further down in the article. Among them are energy optimization, automation, cooling, etc. It’s also going to be the year of AI-driven infrastructure. AI will also play an increasing role in decision making, helping data center operators and companies to optimize the entire process of planning, building, operating and maintaining these facilities. AI will also be the reason for retrofitting and remodeling older data centers along with the next trend.
Hyperscale and shared spaces
As we can imagine big data centers will continue to be very sought after in 2024, and not only because of AI. 2023 highlighted a big need for data center space and resources for businesses, too. Available slots are at a record low among most major markets. Thus, demand for data center space is a key driver for building projects. “They continue to become larger and more specialized, and as a result versatility of data centers is important,” says Robert Bonar, Vice President with the engineering firm Burns & McDonnell to BDCNetwork.
The global data center market, which was valued at $200 billion in 2021, is expected to grow to $450 billion by 2027, with more than 25 million square feet added during that period, according to Ken Research’s latest estimates. Adding space is just one part of the equation. The other one is increasing rack density. The Uptime Institute reports that 83% of enterprise data centers have increased rack densities over the past three years, and in 2024, they will continue to do so while also using additional technologies to help them. For example, some people are making 3D digital twins of data centers for various experimentations and simulations to see which solutions will be useable.
Optimization of the cloud
With all this AI talk, it seemed like the cloud was forgotten. Not quite. It’s still very important and AI forced data center operators to optimize and restructure their cloud frameworks. This will continue and will be further highlighted in 2024 as operators make their data centers even more efficient and flexible.
Cloud users themselves are also starting to realize that there are better ways to use their cloud setups and that they have been using the cloud wrong for a while. Many organizations rushed to the cloud around the pandemic and are now finally starting to properly optimize their setups and applications and improve their costs, says Evoque.
All of this is a great moment for colocation data centers, too. They have the opportunity to help organizations build their hybrid cloud setups and help them create the ideal solution for their needs. This way, they get to experience both a well optimized cloud service and still have the peace of mind that their most important data is on their own colocated server.
New architectures for applications
Another data center trend for 2024 is the emergence of new architectures for applications. Think of new optimizations and features for the containerized infrastructure which have become very popular over the years. There’s also an increasing interest in cloud-native applications and microservices. They are driving the development of more solutions, covering adaptable and resilient environments, which allow the companies to confidently use all the available tools and cloud resources they have while keeping up with the constant changes in the application development trends and requirements.
Another trend in this area is serverless computing. It allows easier scalability, and it should be more efficient to operate. There are also more options to manage resources and optimize costs. This will require some additional changes in applications though, hence even more changes in the area, for example enhancing portability of apps and also minimizing potential conflicts. Overall, it should be for the good as it will allow companies and developers to do more.
We need more skills
All of this is fine, but there’s one major detail that often keeps being forgotten. In order to actually have all these improvements in application architecture, data center management and all other great trends, we need people with skills to do the work. Skills shortage has been a continues problem for the data center industry.
Data center providers are very well aware of that fact. Many are already investing in training programs for their current and new staff. It’s a way to onboard new members to the team. Regular training is needed also because of the fast pace of introduction of new technologies. Gartner predicts that 60% of data center infrastructure teams will have better cloud and automation skills by 2027. Only 30% of them could say the same in 2022. Other popular initiatives are apprenticeships and other training incentives to develop and improve data center employees. It’s the only way to keep up with all the trends and requirements while also increasing staff retention rate and happiness.
The Edge is here to stay
Edge computing has been the quiet person that doesn’t draw much attention, but always has steady results. Over the years edge computing has established a healthy niche that’s here to stay and has slowly built a decent market for itself. And now, thanks to the rise in AI, IoT and 5G networks, Edge computing is in a position to become a preferred choice for many smart projects and private networks.
All of this is important for data centers, too. Initially the Edge was viewed by some as a competitor for data centers. Now it’s obvious that the Edge is actually here to help. It can take a load off from data centers, and right now they need all the help they can get – especially with handling the increasing workloads. Also, the rise of Edge usage motivates the development of new and better solutions for seamless integration between the edge and data centers.
Of course, data centers will require a lot of energy, and their hunger for electricity will only increase. Depending on the forecast, it’s expected that data centers will consume about 1% to 5% of the global electricity by 2030. Keep in mind that data center operators have the biggest interest in not paying big energy bills. So, they invest a lot of resources to ensure their data centers consume as little energy as possible. They also try to make sure that most – if not all – of the electricity needed is coming from sustainable sources.
Data center clients also want to use “green” facilities as that’s important for their own sustainability goals. Almost 58% of organizations have a target date for zero carbon emissions and 45.2% of organizations have implemented a formal set of sustainability goals, shows a survey by Sunbird. All of this again drives more innovations in energy storage, efficiency, etc.
Optimizing data center management
As expected, someone has to manage all of these changes and improvements…. And there are a lot of developments in data center management options! Most of the work is still remote and it will continue to be so. Luckily,it’s easier to find talent this way. This requires continuous improvement of both data center management software and security.
Another trend is that data center managers are changing the way they follow data. Automation and better software allow them to leave spreadsheets and manual data entry behind. According to Sunbird, managers who do so and move to DCIM software are already seeing up to 50% increase in asset tracking efficiency. Plus, they are able to monitor data in real time and thus make better and more informed decisions.
Finally, we can safely say that 2024 will continue to see a quickly evolving market. Expect more developments in the areas of cooling, with liquid and submerging being prime methods. AI will also continue to conquer the market and will be the reason why many decisions are being made. All of that hinges on the fact that we will hopefully have a better, peaceful year.