As businesses continue digitization efforts to support hybrid working, public cloud service spending is expected to grow by 8.4 percent in 2021, reaching $4.1 trillion, according to Gartner.

With both businesses and consumers increasingly dependent on uninterrupted cloud storage, data center construction is booming. What’s not following suit? The number of skilled workers ready to operate these complex facilities.  

According to the Uptime Institute’s Data Center Staffing Forecast, the data center industry will need to add at least 300,000 skilled workers by 2025, as many of the field’s seasoned engineers are expected to retire.

The data center employment shortage will impact all types of data centers, from hyperscale to colocation to small, private facilities.

How can the industry more efficiently attract, hire, train and mentor this highly specialized labor force? It's time to consider the powerful role that cutting edge technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can play in training tomorrow’s workers.

Immersive training removes confusion, ambiguity and risk

Training new data center workers inherently comes with the risk that they make a mistake and bring down the cloud with something as simple as flipping the wrong switch.

The ramifications could range from uneventful to catastrophic – think security breaches, serious financial loss, or even an impact on global markets depending on the size and scale of the outage.

This pressure is exactly why the data center industry needs to evolve training from a traditional classroom setting or “death by PowerPoint.”

VR and AR, while not yet widely adopted in business settings, offer safe environments for training new workers. Other industries requiring a high degree of precision, like aerospace and manufacturing, are already seeing the benefits of using immersive tech to quickly get new employees up to speed. Data centers can likewise benefit from using AR and VR to remove confusion and ambiguity in the learning process.     

VR and AR provide different experiences but achieve similar goals

The distinctions between VR and AR come down to the devices they require and the experience they yield. Despite the differences, they both support risk-free learning in complex, critical environments.

VR involves the construction of an entire 3D environment that matches the actual engineering space or data center.

While sitting in a conference room or even at home, a technician puts on a headset like the Oculus Quest, which completely takes over the user’s vision. The outside world is replaced with a virtual one where the technician can perfect tasks and obtain familiarity with sophisticated equipment before entering the facility. 

In contrast, AR adds to a person’s vision rather than replacing it. A technician can view overlays in the environment with a smartphone or by wearing transparent smart glasses like Microsoft HoloLens for more sophisticated interactions in a mixed-reality setting.

Remote mentoring is especially powerful in AR applications. A technician wearing the glasses acts as the hands in the field, while an expert located anywhere in the world serves as a guide.

The remote guide can provide step-by-step instructions, and even point to specific buttons to press, levers to pull or areas to clean up.

The possibilities with this guided approach are as limitless as the team’s creativity. We’ve found the HoloLens to be especially helpful when we need to train someone remotely who is on site.

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DCD>Talks with Kelly Katz, JLL

We talk with Kelly Katz, Executive Managing Director and Data Center Expert for JLL about IT solutions, and the importance of having a strong team working beside you

VR and AR poised to be a valuable next generation recruiting tool

Beyond training new employees, VR and AR can be powerful outreach and recruiting tools for future generations.

Generating awareness around data center careers among young people – even as young as 14 or 15 – will ensure that they understand what a data center is and how viable (and frankly, cool) a career as a data center technician is.

This savvy generation has grown up with immersive technology. They live and play in it. Now they can learn and make money in it too. 

What steps can data center operators take to start realizing the benefits of VR and AR? For starters, they can issue new employees a VR headset or AR goggles alongside their laptop and phone, providing opportunities to start testing the applications in the real world.

While AR has direct applications in data centers today, it will take time to build those 3D environments required for VR training in the future – so now is the time to start investing in them. 

Now is the time to be gutsy, visionary and bold, and start embracing the potential of immersive technologies to futureproof the data center labor force.

To explore more trends impacting data center demand, read JLL’s 2021 H1 Data Center Outlook.