Huawei or IBM: Who's driving the $11.5bn modular data centre market?
With the pace of innovation accelerating almost exponentially, the speed at which data centre operators need to replace, refit and upgrade both owned and colocated spaces is only going to increase. Last summer, the world was creating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, and that number is only getting larger.
Since companies need to adjust their data centre requirements and capabilities so frequently, many are turning away from owned facilities and towards colocation-based alternatives. Alongside this trend, as colocation becomes more popular, the importance of interconnected networks of colocated facilities is becoming more and more apparent to facility operators.
In an industry where hyperscale facilities consuming hundreds of gigawatts of power are king, thinking small may be the solution to colossal demand. Here’s why making data centres modular will allow the industry to continue supporting the economy’s insatiable hunger for bytes:
Flexible and Scaleable
According to the Colocation America Corporation, “a modular data centre offers unparalleled flexibility. You can ship your data centre anywhere in the world for addition, integration, or retrofitting into your existing data centre footprint. You can also combine modular data centres into a single system.”
Increased flexibility within a system accounts for bother the need to constantly restructure data centre capabilities, and also allows modules to be grouped together, quickly reaching hyperscale demands using tiny little boxes.
Tiny little boxes, big efficiencies
Speaking of which, modular data centre units are self sufficient, meaning they contain “network connections, storage, servers, power lines, monitoring units, fire detection units, software, security, a cooling facility and everything else you would expect from a modern data centre. Not having to buy these components/systems one by one means you will save money, because the plug-and-play units require minimal expertise, meaning you do not need a large in-house technical team for the job. You save money from reduced space utilization, keeping in mind real estate cost is a major cost to businesses today, and this means reduced cooling costs.”
Look who’s already doing it
Huawei poured over $18bn into research and development last year, and it’s no secret that China’s leading tech giant has made a point over the past decade of putting itself ahead of almost every innovation curve in the tech sphere.
Meet their solution to an ever changing data centre landscape: the FusionModule2000 “is a next-generation modular data centre solution integrated with cabinets, power supply and distribution, cooling, cabling, management and other subsystems. It supports flexible deployment with single or dual rows, and cold or hot aisle containment. The maximum IT power density is 21 kilowatts per rack.” Multiple modules can be used to construct large data centres that can then be adapted and adjusted on demand, with far less uptime disruption than a non-modular setup.
US tech company IBM, not to be outdone, has been making modular versions of almost every one of its large, infrastructure products lately. Recently, the company sold a $12mn supercomputer to the US Army inside a shipping container. Indeed, 8ft high, 8ft wide and 40ft long seems to be all the space that IBM needs to package up its bleeding edge modular technology. The company released a white paper exploring the subject in 2014 which claimed that “many organizations need a quick-to-deploy data centre to meet business objectives and immediate data processing needs on a rigid timeline. Some may need to establish data centre functions in specific locations—for example, closer to manufacturing sites, disaster recovery or avoidance locations or remote operations— to support growth, operate through disasters or to support high-density computing needs. In these cases, a flexible, scalable solution is ideal.”
Fast forward to 2019, and IBM will sell you your very own data centre in a shipping crate (or other modular container capable of operating in almost any environment in the world), claiming that the units cost 30% less to design and build than the same amount of capacity in a non-modular facility, and are reportedly up to 60% more energy efficient than traditional solutions.
This week, ResearchAndMarkets released its report on the future of the modular data centre market, which it predicts will grow by more than 21.8% a year over the 2019-2026 period. IBM and Hauwei are far from alone in the modular data centre space, and can be expected to jockey for position and profit with companies like Cisco Systems, Commscope, Inc, Schneider Electric, Dell, Hewlett Packard, SGI, Flexenclosure AB, IO Data Centers LLC, BladeRoom Group, Eaton Corporation, Cannon Technologies, STULZ, and Vertiv.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”