The future of data centres is in our hands

Power Control
17 Dec 2020

Following what has been one of the most unpredictable years that any of us have ever experienced, let alone that we could have anticipated, we look back at some of the biggest developments in the data centre and look to what 2021 may have in store.

Today’s digital infrastructure is far beyond what anyone expected it to be even 10 years ago. The rate at which technology has evolved has surpassed all expectations. Imagine, that wireless internet connection only became available in 1997 and has since set limitless boundaries for digital applications.

Underpinning our mass of digital activity are data centres, now a fast paced and ever advancing industry. The UK data centre market has been pipped to be the largest in Europe, and despite predictions from the Tariff Consultancy Ltd (TCL) a few years ago, which suggested that rack space and square metre pricing may have hit its glass ceiling, the industry is still buoyant.

Originally identified as mainframes, the data centres of yesteryear were merely hubs of computing power used to process physical data. That was before wireless and even the internet, which is now accountable for the mass uptake and rapid data centre advancements. Not only did the data centre industry have to establish a service and commercial offering that guaranteed data protection, but it had to keep pace with the quickly maturing internet and heavy investment into the IT sector. This meant that the role of data centres quickly shifted and even today it is continuously adapting to meet the new demands of the digital world.

What data centre operators were not prepared for at the time was the seemingly impulsive adoption of virtualisation. Driven by the need to address hardware utilisation, power and cooling efficiency and reduced IT spend, virtualisation was the culprit for a significant dip in data centre requirements in the early 2000s.

Undeterred and spurred on by cloud computing and the Internet of Things, the data centre market met these challenges head on, embraced more efficient solutions and maintained their position at the heart of the digital economy.

It is the industry’s willingness to embrace, and invest, in new equipment that has influenced our existing data centre landscape and helped it emerge from on-premise comms rooms to independent micro DCs, co-los and hyperscale data centres. Whilst all data centre components still exist to provide the same functions, they have all reformed to harness global pressures for improved connectivity, efficiency, resilience and sustainability.

Take UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) solutions as an example. These provide essential power backup delivering clean, reliable power protection against load disturbances. Central for power hungry facilities such as data centres, the principle role of UPS systems to deliver unfailing emergency power has not changed. What has altered is their capacity to significantly improve data centre efficiency and flexibility. Specialists in the field are now able to help owner operators realise their true efficiency potential by selecting not just the correct emergency power solution but also considering all the other elements of the electrical infrastructure that contribute to TCO.

Early data centres had to rely on large transformer based UPS solutions to support their infrastructures. Once hailed as the far more resilient backup power system, a transformer-based UPS unit has its drawbacks. The most obvious being its large footprint and heavy weight. The very first transformer based systems were also grossly inefficient. However, advances in technology, made by leading UPS manufacturers like Borri Spa, have allowed newer models to offer far superior efficiency of up to 98%, whilst maintaining resilient performance.

Another shortcoming that has more recently come to light in the wake of modular UPS solutions, is the slightly more complex installation and maintenance processes that transformer based options require. Despite this, many data centre facilities still utilise transformer based  UPS solutions, reassured that improvements in their technology guarantee power protection, whilst also meeting efficiency goals.

The launch of modular UPS systems not only reinvigorated the power protection market but allowed the data centre industry to broaden its scope. Offering a flexible and scalable approach to UPS investment, modular UPS solutions deliver high efficiency even at low loads. This makes them ideal for micro data centres and co-location facilities, which rely on a ‘scale as you grow’ approach.

Modular UPS development has been rapid, and its boundaries are still being pushed, most recently with the introduction of lithium-ion batteries. With their cost barriers slowly eroding and with the sector becoming more knowledgeable about their technology and extended lifespan, lithium-ion solutions are predicted to become common place. Smaller, lighter and more temperature tolerant, they reduce the space needed to house power protection. In addition, lithium-ion batteries also contribute to a data centre’s economic and operational efficiencies through peak shaving.

It is not just the UPS industry that has paved the way for data centres, other equipment manufacturers have adopted similar philosophies, pioneering new solutions that define data centre limitations and ultimately sanction their capabilities.

The global appetite for digital consumption is relentless and dependence on a virtually connected world has never been greater than now. Covid-19 has had an enormous impact on the data centre market but thanks to its forward thinking associated industries, the market has boomed.

Data centre growth is undisputed. Already big players including IONOS and Google have already made moves for potential data centre builds in the UK. Over the last decade we have seen UPS systems help shape the industry, where co location data centres continue to thrive thanks to modular UPS innovation. Continued research, development and investment will see power protection solutions undoubtedly impact the current hyperscale revolution but to what extent is anyone’s guess.

Power Control has been supplying, installing. commissioning and maintaining UPS systems in the data centre industry for nearly 30 years. For more information on the services that we can offer, call 01246 431431 or email