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A Peek Into the Future

A Peek Into the FutureDon’t know if you’ve seen it or not, but Emerson Network Power has released their study—bravo guys–that asked a broad spectrum of individuals connected to the industry about their thoughts on what the data center business will look like in 2025 and the definitive answer seems to be “a lot different”. Apparently the 800 folks that they surveyed and talked to felt that things were going to change—a lot—by the end of the first quarter of the century. However, in looking at what is expected to change, and why, some of the predictions doing seem to have an element of “we’ll all be driving flying cars” to them. I don’t think this is unexpected since, as I’ve talked about before, predicting the future is a pretty murky business, and nobody wants to be guilty of underestimating how great things will be so the natural tendency is to aim high.  That being said, some of the study’s conclusions did seem, shall we say, a little over optimistic or a reached for reasons other than those provided by its participants.

Average Power Density will by 52kW/Rack

If you’re like me, I think the only logical response to this one is, Wow. Since, the current claimed average is somewhere around 6kW (although some of the biggest wholesale and retail colocation providers’ would beg to differ based on their actual utilization figures) and has been flat for the past few years, it appears that a bunch of folks must be really holding back. Certainly 11 years is a long time for these higher rack densities to gestate but 52kW is one heck of a lot of tweets, likes and Instagram posts.

45% of Data Center Power will be Generated from Solar, Nuclear and Wind Sources

While I’m a fan of dreaming big, I think this prediction deviates slightly from reality. Currently, solar contributes 1% to the nation’s overall power production and, as the study points out, unless massive improvements are made in solar panel efficiency the data center of 2025 would be dwarfed by the size of its solar array. The inclusion of nuclear into the future data center power triad is interesting since the country hasn’t opened a new nuclear power plant since the late 70’s. While there are four new facilities due to open in 2017 and 2018, it seems hard to believe that the country will overcome “Fukishima fatigue” to a large enough degree that nuclear sources will constitute any large degree of data center power by 2025. Personally, I suspect that natural gas will take on a larger role as the driving force behind the nation’s power production, and I believe the current effort to kill off coal is more likely to produce power shortages that may impact the level of data center construction in the future.

Data Centers will be Smaller

This reduction in size is predicted as the logical consequence of denser data centers. Interestingly, study participants also project that less power will be required to support the data center of 2025. On the surface these two predictions would seem to conflict with each other. Especially since a plurality of participants also predict the demise of 1 and 2MW data centers. Although I do believe that the ability to locate data centers in more diverse geographic locations will be a catalyst for smaller, single user facilities, the conflicts in reasoning demonstrated by the study would seem to make the future size of data centers a function of end user’s eschewing large, centralized locations in favor of smaller edge locations to maintain data closer to the user base. Of course, that would assume that bandwidth moves faster than the speed of light, since everyone accessing the same hubs push the limit of current bandwidth plans for the future.

As I said, predicting the future is not an easy business. I think the Emerson study provides us with an interesting benchmark. Since we won’t be able to evaluate the accuracy of its conclusions for 11 years, we have plenty of time to speculate, debate and innovate. The one thing that is indisputable is that the needs for more computing capacity and storage will only continue to grow. As for everything else, no one really knows but we are all free to guess.