Data CenterNews & Analysis

Driving up Data Center Efficiency through Constant Innovation

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Increased data volumes are driving the construction of data center campuses and hyperscale data centers for providing large-scale as well as high-quality services. With the growing reliance on digital connectivity on account of COVID-19 and work-from-home phenomenon, the data center industry is expected to grow exponentially to reach 1,007 MW by 2023 from its existing capacity of 447 MW, according to a JLL report. The demand is likely to ramp up due to the imminent rollout of 5G, IoT-linked devices, data localization and use of AI/ML and cloud technologies. In such a scenario, enterprises are expected to play a key role in driving up data center efficiency by cultivating continuous innovation and best practices.

In a conversation with CXOToday, Sudhir Pillai, Managing Director, Corning India, discusses the various technologies and practices for IT leaders to make data centers smart and efficient and the way ahead for futuristic data centers.

How can technologies like AI/ML play an important role in making data centers effective and smart?

 AI is the next wave of business innovation. The advantages it brings from operational cost savings, additional revenue streams, simplified customer interaction, and much more efficient, data-driven ways of working are just too attractive – not just to the CFO and shareholders but also the customers. Traditional III-tier networks used core, aggregate, and edge switching to connect the different servers within the data center where inter-server traffic travels in a North-South direction through the active devices to talk with each other. Now, thanks to the high computational requirements and inter-dependency that AI and ML bring to the game, more of these networks are implemented using a 2-tier spine-and-leaf network, where servers talk to each other in an East-West direction due to the ultra-low latency demanded by production and training networks.

We have to embrace the technology and use it to our advantage, which also means adopting a different way of thinking about data center design and implementation. Thanks to the significant increase in performance at the ASICs we will ultimately see an increase in the IO speeds driving connectivity even deeper. Data centers will need to be super-efficient, highly fiber-meshed, ultra-low latency, East-West spine-and-leaf networks that accommodate day-to-day production traffic while supporting ML training in parallel.

What roles do cabling solutions play in data center efficiency?

 The fiber plays such a pivotal role in ensuring your picture or video is broadcast to the whole world to see, share, and comment. Fiber has become the defacto transmission media across our data center infrastructures thanks to its high speed and ultra-high-density capabilities compared to its copper cousins. The most interesting thing is that cable solution investment is not a significant cost adder in the overall data center ecosystem – it’s lower than 1%. The return on investment on the network depends a great deal on the choice of this 1% component. Efficient cable solution is the fundamental building block of data center networks – and yet accounts for less than 1% of the network cost. However, the efficiency of the remaining 99% of network investment depends on the choice and quality of the cable solution.

Maintaining uptime is a critical focus for businesses to maximize productivity and value for their IT networks and applications. Therefore, it is often wise to implement solutions that allow network monitoring without affecting live applications. Network monitoring when implemented optimally should allow individuals to see all networks traffic including errors, regardless of packet size, in real-time to allow preventative actions to be taken quickly and efficiently rather than a more costly, corrective approach after the event.

Demand for data centers has gone up as technologies for working remotely are playing a crucial role in keeping companies functional in a time of Covid -19. The emergence of new business environment in the wake of the pandemic has boosted cloud services and digitization as companies overhaul their digital infrastructure to deal with new ways of working.  It has increased the pressure on data centers to facilitate rapid and seamless transition of data. The situation also validated the need vital data to be maintained in an environment that is robust in the face of major, unpredictable events and to place priority on major factors such as access to business tools and possible network constraints.

How the data center industry is constantly looking for ways to become more energy-efficient with sustainable eco-friendly innovation and methods?

According to a recent report, the rapid growth of the data center industry has led to increased energy consumption and environmental impact. In the same time, global cloud players setting up bases in India aim to reduce their carbon footprint and are looking at data centers that provide sustainable energy alternatives and are entering renewable energy power contracts.

It is certain that businesses and operators in the sector have a significant part to play in championing sustainable practices. Fortunately, the data center industry is constantly looking for ways to become more energy-efficient and there is real innovation, both technical and otherwise, that is addressing climate change head-on. Clever choice of location is instrumental in reducing emissions and a lot of companies situate themselves in areas with vast amounts of renewable energy, such as mines with a constant air temperature and access to chilled water. Artificial intelligence, and more specifically machine learning, is also being deployed by some of the biggest players to improve energy efficiency in data centers. Google notably applied DeepMind machine learning to its data centers and reduced energy consumption for cooling alone by up to 40%.

There are different ways to address this matter. For example, we worked with Altice Portugal on a state-of-the-art data center in Covilhã that utilized our pre-terminated EDGE solution. Critically, the EDGE cables enabled Altice Portugal to maximize the energy density of the racks, which delivered efficiency gains and helped to future proof the data center for future upgrades.

Tackling climate change will require one of the biggest combined efforts in history and every industry must play its part. For the data center market, continued knowledge-sharing and innovation will be critical to mitigating the energy demands of data-hungry emerging technologies such as 5G and IoT in the coming years.

How do high-quality cable solutions help in long-lasting data center operations and performance?

 Installing the right cabling infrastructure solution now will enable your business to reap greater financial benefits from the outset, retain and attract more customers, and give your facility the flexibility to flourish no matter what demands are placed on it. Corning provides operators of high-performance data centers with solutions for quicker, cost-effective deployments and a streamlined path to revenue growth. Our broad range of solutions meets today’s requirements for reliability, manageability, scalability, and flexibility. Our extreme-density cables RocketRibbon enables up to 30% faster installation in hyperscale data centers. These solutions are ideal for data center interconnect applications and emerging network needs, such as 5G, where high-fiber availability is essential.

What are the roadblocks in attaining India’s full potential in the data center sector, immediate challenges and what could be the long-term solution?

 India is taking significant strides forward in its journey to become a full-fledged digital economy. All of us have been a part of this transformational journey. Not just large businesses but SMEs and MSMEs are also using technology and moving data/processing to the cloud. So, the demand for data and thereby data centers is certainly strong. Stable power and water supply, fiber connectivity and land banks are critical enablers for data centers not just in India but anywhere in the world. We need to effectively address these necessities for datacenter growth. The Government is already working on the datacenter policy for the sector which is expected to spur growth in the sector. Once the policy is in place, the next step for the sector will be move beyond the major cities which is where the data centers are located today, into tier-2 and tier-3 cities. These edge data centers will be closer to the user, reduce latency and improve user experience.

 How data center growth will impact important stakeholders like the customers, partners and solution providers?

 The growth across the data center industry will be driven by a meaningful collaboration of every stakeholder. With hyper-scales, multi-tenant data centers, and telecommunication carriers working together, everyday users will experience better and faster data access supported by new technologies like 5G being deployed today, and future developments in the roadmap like 6G.

With increased data rates, as well as density and constant space issues, there is a need for use of smaller and denser cables for DCI, smaller connectors, as well as new or adaptable products and solutions. The need for network reliability will bring further applications for understanding risks and monitoring different networks. In addition, speed of deployment is one of the most critical aspects and hence products offering easier installation, plug-n-play, or ready-to-go installations will be needed.

The pandemic has fast-tracked technological acceleration and the evolution we expected to happen in the next 5 years has taken place in 1-2 years. We are witnessing strong hyperscale demand that is fueling cloud migration, implementation of Machine Learning, and more reliance on technology across organisations and societies. Going forward, 5G will bring a huge change to cloud computing. With a powerful combination of cloud and 5G, we expect massive jumps in functionality, capacity, and flexibility not limited to businesses, but also for end-users, translating into more data consumption. quick or real-time access to the cloud storage, while delivering low latency, enabled by edge computing, supporting/enabling different megatrends like IoT, AI, Autonomous Driving, VR, AR, among others.

How to build a futuristic data center that would cover the needs not only of today but the next 5 to 10 years too?

The key for future-ready data centers is to invest in the right infrastructure today that will allow us to have a seamless migration to new technologies and higher data rates and also ensuring scalability. While today end-users use technology supporting 40G – 100G in enterprise/private data centers mainly, hyperscale data centers are operating or rolling out 400G already. But that also means more demand for bandwidth. Hence, today, we already see fiber being the dominant media in data centers for higher speed and efficiency.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com