After recovering from the havoc that the pandemic heaped upon my 2020 predictions, it’s time to approach the still smoldering dumpster fire that is 2021 and see what predictions I can pull from the carnage.

Some may say that February is a little late to make predictions for the year, but as many have experienced, time moves both very quickly and very slowly in a pandemic. So, I will claim that as my excuse. In this now normal, will Covid-19 continue to accelerate digital transformation? Read on to see my socially distanced predictions for 2021.

1 Surging data center construction strains resources

It’s no secret that the data center market has been hot for years, and the pandemic poured fuel on the fire in 2020. The continued acceleration of digital transformation will ramp up the demand for data centers, the foundation of all things digital. The increased demand for data centers will put unprecedented pressure on the global construction industry. Having built mission critical facilities for nearly 30 years now, I have witnessed multiple surges in demand, but nothing rivals what is happening today.

Experienced data center construction professionals will see the demand for their expertise rise and leadership will be at a premium. Contractors will no longer be able to fill their teams with experienced resources across the board, but rather recruit those from other sectors with a crossover in technical skills. There will be a temptation to promote bright, but less experienced builders to fill this leadership gap before their time. Doing so brings great risk as there is no substitute for experience and the lessons learned that come with it.

Contractors with resources, especially on a global scale, will flourish and be a valuable partner for those with global ambitions. Although prefabrication has become more widely adopted, it will strengthen its role as the preferred method of supplementing on-site resources. The combination of engaging an alternate labor pool and creating parallel paths in production between the field and the factory will help the construction industry keep pace with the rising demands of today’s tech market.

2 Diversity is the solution to the impending silver tsunami

Much has been said about the talent gap being created by the increase in demand for data center resources and those nearing retirement age. The average data center manager is a male in his 50s highlighting the need for not only new blood, but also diversity. Worker age in the construction industry is increasing at a faster rate than worker age for all U.S. industries combined. There are many groups focused on this issue, but far more is needed to engage with more diverse sources of labor. This will continue to be one of the biggest threats to the success of the data center and tech industry for the foreseeable future.

3 Sustainability moves from corporate social responsibility to competitive advantage

Sustainability has been at the forefront of the tech industry for years, but this year it will rise in importance and maturity. Had I gotten my predictions out sooner, I would look far more omniscient in this prediction in light of the recent announcement by several European data center operators and associations to go climate neutral by 2030.

This announcement is the manifestation of many underlying factors that have been bubbling to the surface for some time. No longer are tech firms just doing what they can to keep Greenpeace off of their backs and provide transparent CSR reporting. Sustainability today is a more integrated and purpose driven approach measured by metrics. It’s going beyond your own operations to include those of your vendors as Microsoft announced last year that their sustainability goals will flow down to their supply chain.

This is about lowering your company’s risk profile and improving operational and financial performance. In the ever competitive market for talent, sustainability is a tool for employee attraction and retention. As I have been saying for years, you cannot underestimate the value of sustainable branding. Investment firms such as Blackrock are watching and will no longer fund companies without a commitment to sustainability.

4 Edge computing cements its symbiotic relationship with public cloud

I don’t think I am going out on a limb with this prediction and wasn’t planning to include it, but a well-known market research firm predicted that new edge computing vendors would pull back 5 percent from public cloud growth. Flatly put, I don’t think they could be more wrong. Edge computing and public cloud will benefit each other greatly.

Edge computing will grow by leaps and bounds in 2021 as evidenced by the number of new market entrants and the creation of new marketplaces such as Edgevana. Vast amounts of new data will be created at the edge, where it can analyzed and used for immediate benefit. After this initial action, a great deal of this data will likely be moved to public cloud. This data is likely purely additive, so I don’t see it taking anything away from public cloud growth, but rather adding to it.

5 Edge computing leads to lights out data centers

Most agree that edge computing is growing at a high rate. Everyone’s edge is also very different both in terms of location and size. Facebook’s edge may be a 24 MW colocation facility in Ashburn, while someone else’s may be a couple of servers at a factory or a drone airport. With the proliferation of edge computing sites, the management of these numerous and far flung sites must be re-evaluated. It is neither practical nor necessary to have these sites manned. I suspect management of these will be similar to long haul telecom sites where a single tech manages several remote facilities. Whatever the means of management, many of these facilities will be lights out while leaning more on digital monitoring systems.

6 India’s colocation market takes center stage

It is commonly understood that the U.S. colocation market is the largest and most mature in the world. The European colocation market is also currently in the midst of a drastic growth spurt that will continue for the foreseeable future. In 2021, India will take its place on the main stage of colocation markets. Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan have long been stalwarts of colocation in Asia, but other markets are evolving and growing. Indonesia, South Korea, and Australia are growing quickly, but the market to watch is India. With a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, it was only a matter of time before this market took off. I believe that time is now with the growth starting in Mumbai and New Delhi and spreading from there.

There you have it folks, the 7th annual edition of my data center and tech predictions. Where has the time gone? Was I too bold or did I play it too safe? Time will tell how Covid-19 impacts the predictions and the industry, but if 2020 is any indicator, it will continue to pour fuel on the fire and drive digital transformation forward. I am always interested in hearing your thoughts on my predictions, so please reach out on LinkedIn or Twitter.