The earliest examples of data centers can trace their roots back to the early 1940s, when the computing revolution first began.

Like anything technology-related back then, data centers were massive and inefficient and provided roughly the same IT power a modern calculator would consume today. In that time, they’ve evolved in much the same way most technology has - more power, more compact and unrecognizable levels of efficiency.

Despite the incredible changes we’ve already seen in this space, the biggest data center revolution may lie ahead and be realized in the next five years.

edge computing
– Getty Images

Closer to the Edge

Making accurate predictions about what is coming down the line is becoming harder and harder, as technology disrupts and changes at such a rapid pace. This is no different in the world of data centers, the heartbeat of all the new technology developments we’re seeing, and our mid-point report reflected that.

The one key trend that has emerged in the past five years is the edge, something that registered as about a 0.2 on the data center Richter scale back in 2014.

The edge represents access at the point of convenience for the user – in other words, devices connected to the data center ecosystem that use its resources. Traditionally, this has included routers, routing switches and desktop computers. Now things are a little more complicated – laptops, smartphones, wearable technology and plenty more are powered by data centers, and that changes everything.

The key difference with these newcomer devices is mobility. They don’t stay grounded like a trusty desktop or router. We’re constantly on the move and so are the devices and applications we rely on to do our work and manage the digital side of our personal lives.

Data centers and park benches

Back in 2014, the industry’s attention was focused firmly on hybrid architectures that leverage a mix of enterprise, cloud and colocation resources.

Five years on, and the edge has emerged as an entirely new segment – more than half of respondents believe the number of edge sites in their stable would increase by at least 100 percent. A fifth expected a 400 percent or more increase.

While the change over five years is dramatic, it should not be considered too surprising. As data and applications have moved closer to the end-user and run through a wide range of small, powerful edge devices, so too must the data centers that run the show.

This means we’re going to see miniature data centers pop up everywhere, from gaps in Singapore’s metropolis to support the country’s smart city drive, to park benches in Paris powering Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

The real-time everything archetypes

One could make the argument of ‘what’s the rush?’. Much of the data we process now doesn’t need to be processed in real time. If you send an email or a funny cat meme to someone, it doesn’t really matter if they get it in four seconds or eight.

While this acceptable delay will be fine for many applications, increasingly we’re creating technology that depends on data being crunched in an instant. Driverless vehicles, high-frequency commodities and stock trading and even video conferencing are some examples of this.

It’s easy to see how seconds or microseconds lost in the processing of data at this level could be costly in many ways, from hard costs in a financial services business to life dependency in a healthcare setting.

Next steps for the CIO and IT department

Overall, the research doesn’t change too much for the typical CIO, IT manager or overall IT department. The overall trajectories of technology development, mobility, IoT and everything that goes with that are still the same - up.

In terms of IT infrastructure, most businesses are already favoring a mix of environments to manage their businesses. A recent 451 research report indicated more than 90 percent of organizations across Asia Pacific have multiple cloud environments already in place.

What’s vital is that the edge is considered in this hybrid mix. For businesses this might mean rolling out edge data centers to branch offices or remote sites, ensuring data that falls into the right archetype is processed on-site and not reliant on some data center or colocation facility miles away. This is particularly important in countries like Australia where these distances can be huge.

For government organizations, it could mean edge infrastructure to support IoT and smart city applications, ensuring the user experience expected from these applications is met.

The edge and the micro data centers needed to support it won’t be the most headline-grabbing or talked about cornerstone of the next stage of the computing revolution, but a cornerstone it is, and this needs to be recognized by the organizations and leaders creating edge applications and experiences. If not, we’ll hit the edge of our imaginations faster than we think.