Data centres in 2030: challenges and trends for the next 10 years

The fourth industrial revolution 

Recent history has been a time of momentous change, transformation, innovation, and disruption. 

In 1765, the first industrial revolution set the stage for mechanization. In 1870, the second revolution brought electricity to the world. Starting in 1969, the third revolution brought science fiction closer to reality, with the advent of computing. Our current decade is known as the fourth industrial revolution, or the era of digitization.

This era is characterised by the increasing digitization of all existing spheres, areas and sectors. Artificial intelligence, the internet of things, edge computing and blockchain are the hallmarks of an era marked by the massification of data, a bullish immediacy and a need for availability in real time. However, it has also been accompanied by the cataclysm of intermission, the dread of disruption and the downfall of the computer systems that are the pillars of the modern world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transformation processes, forcing companies to digitize and safeguard their information in a very short period of time. This has made the risks that these processes entail –  especially the management, protection and data recovery aspects – more evident. 

The aim of data centres is to enable companies to guarantee and protect their information. The pandemic has consolidated their role as guarantors of continuity, redundancy and the availability of information. 

Trends and challenges for data centres in the next decade

The growth of cloud services during the 2020 pandemic has also driven companies’ needs for data centres. So central and essential are data centres in today’s digital infrastructure that they have become a critical service, comparable to telecommunications, water, electricity and gas. 

Signs of such growth are evident in the massive construction of hyperscale data centres and edge data centres (localized micro data centres that drastically reduce latency for content and application consumption) to accommodate the growing management needs for the information derived from the digital transformation.

According to Global Data, global data centre revenues in 2030 will reach $948 billion. In 2020, they were $466 billion, so a year-on-year growth rate of 6.7% is expected. 

While this is excellent news for the sector, the large-scale generation of data centres carries a significant environmental footprint and a series of challenges that need to be addressed as soon as possible. 

Data centres consume 1% of electrical energy globally 

One of the most relevant challenges is the increase in electricity demand caused by growth in the number and size of data centres

The share of global electricity used by data centres is currently estimated to be around 1%, but the steady increase in data processing, storage and traffic raises concerns over electricity demands in the future. 

Indeed, current growth forecasts predict that data centre energy demands could reach 13% of global electricity by 2030

To offset this growth in energy demand, rapid improvements are already being made to the efficiency of servers, storage devices, and data centre infrastructure. All of these changes have helped limit the growth in demand for electricity. 

Additionally, the energy sources that provide electricity to modern data centres are becoming increasingly renewable.  

However, it is not just the energy source but also the effective use of it that is important. This is where the term PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) comes into play. 

PUE, as a concept, refers to the relationship between the total energy received by a data centre and the energy used by the host equipment. The ideal PUE would be 1.0, which means 100% efficiency. That is, all energy consumed is used only in IT equipment and no power distribution is lost. 

Adam, one of the data centres of reference nationwide, has the merit of having a PUE of 1.2 as an annual average. By way of comparison, only industry giants like Google and Microsoft are creating data centres with a PUE of 1.2 or lower, with the global average for the largest data centres being around 1.67, according to a study by 2019 from the Uptime Institute. 

From the beginning, Adam has opted to use energy from 100% renewable sources and to build its CPDs in a way that maximizes energy efficiency and minimizes the carbon footprint. Good design with free-cooling technologies, accompanied by a strategic location and business development based on sustainability are key to achieving this level of efficiency.

The European Union has a fundamental role in regulating data centres; together the industry and officials must address the sustainability and energy consumption challenges posed by the high growth of the sector. 

Making the data centre sector dependent primarily on renewable energy will significantly help the EU become carbon-neutral by 2050. Future EU electricity production is expected to be dominated by diverse renewable energy sources. In fact, the European Commission predicts that the proportion of electricity generated by renewable sources will be 47% by 2030.

More reliability and less latency with an exponential increase in traffic 

Another critical challenge created by globalization and the exponential increase in data is the constant increase in network traffic worldwide.

The demand for internet access has grown dramatically and, consequently, so have the demands for reliability, speed and interconnection. These facts imply that continual work needs to be done to make sure improvements to the infrastructure meet the evolving demands of globalization. One of the industry’s priorities is to reduce network latency, bringing digital applications and content closer to the end user. 

This is one of the most important challenges facing the EU and member countries when it comes to deploying the Internet infrastructures of the future. 

The exchange points play a leading role here. They can be defined as “a technical infrastructure in which various networks, including Internet service providers, mobile phone operators, business networks, research and education networks, eGovernment services and distribution networks of content (CDN), come together to connect and exchange Internet traffic.”

This infrastructure brings multiple benefits, such as more affordable Internet access, more direct network connections, and faster access speeds, as traffic is routed locally instead of via international transit routes. 

Adam, as a reference ISP, has a presence in multiple exchange points: 

  • CATNIX (Neutral Internet Point in Catalonia). 
  • ESPANIX (Neutral Internet Point in Spain). 
  • DECIX (Neutral Internet Point in Germany). 

Having a presence in multiple neutral points maximizes the already broad advantages that this type of infrastructure provides. In addition to the advantages already mentioned, there is a reduction of costs, an increase in routing efficiency and greater fault tolerance. 

In short, this decade will present a series of extraordinary changes in the sector, from the exponential growth in the construction of data centres and network traffic capacity, to the intensive reform of electricity consumption, where renewable energies and systems that maximize energy efficiency are set to play a bigger role.

Proactive regulation of the European Union 

The EU’s aim is to facilitate the exponential growth of the sector in a sustainable way and define the responsibility, not only of data centres, but also of the governments that form a part of the EU, through policies that address key challenges on the road ahead. 

Policy makers are taking a proactive approach to the proper development of data centres. Through good management, data centres can accelerate the deployment of renewable energy and improve network integration and flexibility. 

To maximize benefits, policy makers and data centre operators will need to work together this decade to: 

  1. Ensure sufficient network capacity and planning by facilitating the construction of new data centres
  2. Promote energy efficiency and flexibility. 
  3. Invest in R&D for efficient next generation communication and computing technologies. 

Some of the most important rules and regulations in this area are: 

  • UNE-EN 50600 (Information technology. Infrastructures and facilities of data centres. Environmental monitoring). 
  • Directive (EU) 2019/944 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 June 2019 on common rules for the internal market for electricity
  • The Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact, created by leading cloud infrastructure providers and data centre operators with the goal of making data centres in Europe climate neutral by 2030. 

The Pact is a self-regulatory initiative that has been developed in cooperation with the European Commission. This pact is in line with the current European Green Deal, which aims to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. 

Combining growth and environmental sustainability

In conclusion, the demand for data centre services will continue to experience strong growth, driven by increased data traffic and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, 5G and Blockchain. The industry will need both innovation and regulation to ensure that the growing demand for data is met under an umbrella of eco-sustainability and energy efficiency.