From 2010 to 2019, the data center industry experienced exponential growth. The move towards hybrid IT continues as the balance between on-prem facilities, colocation and the cloud becomes more pronounced. The rapid development of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data, and 5G will bring further growth and drive ever-increasing market demand.

To meet this demand, data centers must solve construction challenges to build at speed and scale and manage energy usage and costs in a sustainable way. In addition, data centers also face many challenges in terms of architecture flexibility and O&M.

The following trends look at how we meet this challenge as an industry and drive towards this future.

1) High Density

CPU performance and server capacity will keep increasing with the evolution of IT computing capacity. As the demand for AI applications also increases, the importance of AI computing power grows in parallel. To balance efficiency and costs, data centers will develop with high density in mind. Currently, the average power capacity in a data center is 6 to 8kW/rack. It is anticipated that power density of 15 to 20kW/rack will be predominant in data centers by 2025.

2) Scalable Architecture

Generally, the lifecycle of IT devices is 3 to 5 years, and the power density doubles every 5 years. The lifecycle of data center infrastructure, however, is 10 to 15 years. The data center facility will support IT device evolution for 2-3 generations. It demands scalable expansion and phased investment for optimal CAPEX in the lifecycle of the data center. In addition, the data center must support hybrid deployment of IT devices with different power densities because of diversified IT services running there.

3) Green

Currently, the power consumption of data centers accounts for three percent of the world’s total power consumption. It is estimated that the total power consumption of the data center will reach more than 1,000TWh by 2025. Energy-saving, emission reduction, and operating expense (OPEX) reduction are big challenges. Increasing power usage effectiveness (PUE) of data centers and building sustainably is imperative and inevitable. It is an irresistible trend to use clean energy and waste heat, and to save resources (such as energy, land, water, and materials) throughout the lifecycle of the data center. It is estimated that the average PUE of a new data center in China will drop to 1.1 in the next five years.

4) Quick Deployment

Internet services usually spike in a short period of time, and data and traffic demands on the service side increase sharply. Therefore, data centers must be rolled out quickly. On the other hand, the data center is changing from a support system to a production system. A faster rollout, therefore, means faster benefits. The typical TTM of a data center is 9 to 12 months, which is expected to be shortened to less than 6 months in the future.

5) Full Digitization and AI-enablement

The software-defined, intelligent data center is upon us. With the continuous improvement of IoT and AI technologies, data centers will gradually evolve from single-domain digitization in terms of O&M, energy saving, and operation, to full-lifecycle digitization and automatic driving in terms of planning, construction, O&M, and optimization. AI will be widely adopted and applied.

6) Full Modularization

More data centers will be constructed in full modular mode to address the problems of slow construction and high initial investment costs. Modular designs will evolve from component modularization to architecture modularization and equipment room modularization, finally achieving full modularization of the data center. The full modular design will enable fast deployment, flexible capacity expansion, simple O&M, and high energy efficiency.

7) Simplified Power Supply Architecture. Lithium Batteries becoming the norm

The power supply and distribution system of a traditional data center is complex and fragmented; it occupies a large footprint, and it is difficult to locate faults. A simplified power supply architecture will reduce power conversion times, shorten the power supply distance and footprint, improve the space utilization rate and enhance system energy efficiency. Compared with lead-acid batteries, lithium batteries have advantages in terms of footprint and service life. As the cost of lithium batteries decreases, lithium batteries will be widely used in data centers in the future.

8): The convergence of Liquid Cooling and Air Cooling; More Indirect Evaporative Cooling and Less Chilled Water Cooling

GPU and NPU applications generate more high-density scenarios, and liquid cooling systems will become more and more popular. Some storage and computing services however, are still in low-density scenarios. To quickly adapt to uncertain IT service requirements in the future, the cooling solution must be compatible with the air cooling system and liquid cooling system. In addition, the complex architecture of the chilled water cooling system hinders quick deployment and easy O&M. An indirect evaporative cooling system, with a modular architecture, will shorten the deployment time and simplifies O&M. In addition, by fully utilizing the natural cooling resources, power consumption of the cooling system will be greatly reduced. In areas with a suitable climate, the chilled water system will gradually be replaced by indirect evaporative cooling system.

9) Dynamic Linkage between Bits and Watts

Reducing PUE doesn’t mean that the overall energy consumption of the data center is optimal. Instead of focusing on the data center energy facilities, the energy consumption of the data center needs to be evaluated and optimized as a whole. Through full-stack innovation among facility, IT, chipsets, data, and cloud, bits and watts will work collaboratively to achieve dynamic energy-saving and optimal energy efficiency of the entire system.

10) Trustworthiness

As the data center facility becomes more intelligent, the network security threats will multiply. The data center must have six features: resilience, security, privacy, safety, reliability, and availability to prevent attacks and threats from environments and malicious personnel, including network intrusion threats.