Originally posted to VMBlog by Sherman Ikemoto, Managing Director at Future Facilities

2020 has been a difficult year for many industries. With travel greatly restricted, non-essential shops ordered to shut and events cancelled or moved to being online, many sectors have been hit hard as activities slowed down. However, that is not the case for all. As online communication for work and entertainment becomes more important than ever before, data centers have been under incredible strain to ensure the digital world can support this increased demand.

In 2021, the strain and importance of the data center is only going to increase as the pandemic, growth of cloud and emergence of new technologies such as AI and 5G take hold. With data centers and the role they play in keeping us connected growing in importance in 2021, it is time to take stock of the big trends that are set to shape this key industry. As we head into a new year, here are some of the key trends we think data center owners and operators need to look out for in 2021.

2021 Data Center Trends

  • Liquid cooling: Liquid cooling has been predicted to replace air cooling for some time, but 2021 is the year widespread adoption begins. In fact, according to Report Linker, by 2024 the data center liquid cooling market is set to be worth $3.2 billion as it grows at a CAGR of 22.6%. The accelerated shift to liquid cooling will be driven by two main factors. Firstly as high-density computing tasks such as AI processing increase in adoption, the limits of air cooling will be reached. Going forward, new data center designs will need to include liquid cooling to ensure they are future-proofed to handle ever-increasing high-density technologies.

The second factor is the use of data center Digital Twin technologies. Digital Twins create an identical replica of a data center to use for simulation, that allows designers and operators to test out different setups and scenarios in a safe environment ahead of real-world deployments. By using a Digital Twin to optimize the set up of liquid cooling, businesses can unlock even more value from their data centers without needing to invest in additional cooling solutions.

  • Neural networks: Neural networks will also play a role in shaping data centers too. The explosive growth of AI and neural network usage is pushing hardware designs and architectures into new directions. Chip designs such as Nvidia will continue to thrive but only if the latest designs can maintain performance even when being pushed to their thermal limits. Modelling these designs will be crucial in unlocking additional growth and keeping pace with customer demands.
  • Digitalization of the data center: 2021 will see data centers become more digital than they ever have before. With the global pandemic making in-person site visits harder to do, processes such as compliance testing will become virtual. Offering the ability to reduce costs too, the switch to virtual compliance testing will likely continue after the pandemic too. In addition, the usage of tools such as the Digital Twin to add with center management will be the norm as decisions increasingly are made based on empirical evidence from simulations rather than the traditional rule of thumb approach.
  • Cloud and edge transformation: The shift to the cloud will continue in 2021 as businesses look to reap the rewards on offer such as a lower CAPEX cost and flexibility. According to CCS Insight, by the end of the year, it is predicted that half of all large firms will have more than 50% of their applications in the public cloud, up from 20% in 2019.

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