It’s a hybrid world: 2018 predictions for the data centre industry


With 2018 just around the corner, Jonathan Arnold, managing director at Volta Datacentres, shares his predictions for the IT and data centre industry in 2018.

When it comes to the world of IT and data centres, blink and you’ll miss the next technology development or business trend. Don’t believe me? Then think back over the past 10 years or so. Plenty has changed and, most notably, the pace of change has picked up dramatically, which makes planning for the future a particularly difficult task. That said, there are some obvious trends that will continue, alongside the emergence of at least one new technology.

The IT and data centre industry has performed the in/out dance since its birth. One minute everything needs to be centralised. The next minute everything needs to be distributed. That model is now being replaced by what I call hybrid infrastructure – a balanced mix of centralised and distributed IT resource, housed in a mixture of large, consolidated data centre facilities and, increasingly, local, edge, micro data centres. Clearly, one size doesn’t fit all.

Similarly, there seems to be a final recognition that any organisation needs to have a mixture of in-house and external IT and data centre resources, including colo, cloud, and managed services. Optimum flexibility, efficiency and cost requirements dictate such a policy. So, we have the emergence of a hybrid world. IT and data centre infrastructure owned and operated in-house, owned and operated externally from a mixture of consolidated, centralised and distributed, localised facilities.

To reflect this change, it seems reasonable to expect an organisation’s workforce expertise to be transformed – especially when it comes to the IT department. There may no longer be the need for dedicated, single discipline IT experts, as much of the required skills are being sourced externally.

The data centre is finally being recognised as a business’s data/information resource, and this requires that the data centre professionals and the facilities folks bury the hatchet and work closely together. It’s been talked about for years, but it does need to happen.

Add in the fact that completely non-technical staff should be enabled (within boundaries) to fire up IT resources without finding a bottleneck in the data centre or IT infrastructure, and we see the emergence of a hybrid, almost virtualised, pool of human resource when it comes to specifying and implementing the infrastructure required to support any new application. That’s to say, personnel from all company departments need to be involved in the IT and data centre process.

Automation and orchestration are crucial to achieving all of the above. So expect big things from this management area over the next 12 months. Running a hybrid, agile and optimised data centre and IT infrastructure is no longer possible without high levels of automated management. It’s just surprising that there aren’t more comprehensive solutions out there. We seem to be stuck in the multi-console age – whereby there are far too many software programmes running small chunks of the business. That needs to change.

Technology-wise, things move fast in the IT space. Not so much in the data centre industry – where some of the established technologies are those discovered by the ancient Greeks! It may take a while for the pace of change to increase, but I’m reliably informed by several sources that foam batteries will have a major impact on the data centre space in the near future. The promise is of better safety, much higher densities, and lighter weight batteries. Foam batteries seem to be under the radar as far as Wikipedia is concerned, but there’s plenty of vendor information out there for those interested.

It would be great to think that foam batteries are going to be just one or many energy efficiency related developments that will take the industry by storm – alternative energy, waste heat re-use and the like – but the UK seems depressingly slow to investigate these alternatives. No doubt, as smart cities become a reality, the data centre will have to adapt to play its full part.

Unfortunately, it seems safe to predict that, despite the digital age developing at pace, far too many data centres will continue to be (relatively) inefficient and expensive to run!

I’ve managed to get this far without mentioning the ‘highlight’ of 2018 – but I can’t end without a nod in the direction of the arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). I imagine that there will be a flurry of stories, as mainstream journalists make all manner of data-related requests to see if they can catch out big name organisations. And once this initial furore dies down, everyone will realise that, in actual fact, if they are looking after their data diligently, then GDPR compliance will not actually cause too many problems. But that won’t stop all the hype from vendors trying to push GDPR solutions!