Data at the Centre of digital transformation
Data centres are critical when innovative technologies are flourishing towards an explosion in demand for computing storage and power.
Telecoms carriers offer innovative technologies such as 5G, automation and cloud to empower digital transformation. Data centres play a fundamental role in this process regarding both cloud converged 5G architecture and the various digital applications powered by the convergence of 5G with automated, cloud and big data technologies.
Data centres that meet the needs of the digital era are key to carrier digitisation and their role in the digital transformation of industries.
As technologies such as 5G, cloud computing, automation and big data develop, many new applications are flourishing, leading to an explosion in demand for data centre storage and computing power.
Traditional data centres face increasingly noticeable problems such as long construction cycles, high power consumption, complex operations, and maintenance (O&M) and challenging expansion.
So, what is the breakthrough that will help carriers go digital? The answer: the full-stack data centre. This is a revolution that will redefine data centres in four ways:
- use a solution without air conditioning to save energy;
- provide a prefabricated modular construction model;
- offer high-density computing power; and
- facilitate intelligent O&M.
Optimal power usage
Based on Total Consumer Power Consumption Forecast presented by Anders SG Andrae at the Nordic Digital Business Summit in 2017, data centres will account for 5% of global energy consumption by 2025.
Lower power consumption of data centres has long been a focus of the industry. With the explosion of data traffic and computing requirements in the 5G era, where everything is intelligently connected, data centres are bound to come under greater pressure regarding energy consumption. Therefore, innovative and energy-efficient data centres have become an urgent need.
Traditional data centre cooling systems are very power-hungry, accounting for over 28% of data centres’ total power consumption. To address this problem, designers of next-generation data-centre cooling solutions will attempt to replace air conditioning with more efficient and targeted board-level liquid cooling and cabinet rear-door cooling.
In addition, indirect evaporative cooling, with benefits such as longer natural cooling durations and shorter cooling processes, has huge power saving potential. This can significantly reduce compressor working hours, saving more in electricity costs than chilled water systems.
A data centre in Shenzhen that adopted the indirect evaporative cooling solution had a maximum annual power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 1.2 and saved about 7.09 million renminbi (US$1.1 million) in electricity costs each year.
Prefabricated modules and quick construction
Complex procedures are required to build traditional data centres. Project management is difficult, project quality is hard to ensure, and repeated corrections are often required. The entire construction process — from the survey, design and civil work, to equipment installation, test and acceptance, trial run and rectification — usually takes between one and a half and two years.
This construction model cannot address market changes or service requirements.
Traditional data centres are characterised by one-time planning and investment, rather than on-demand deployment and staged investment. As a result, traditional data centres face numerous problems: large lump-sum amounts required, high vacancy rates and long return-on-investment cycles.
Moreover, during service upgrades, traditional data centres cannot support smooth capacity expansion. Equipment and cooling systems need to be powered off in order to increase power density.
To address these problems, the architecture of next-generation data centres should be fully modularised, with prefabricated modules for power supply, distribution and backup, as well as cooling and IT equipment.
This will make data centre construction like building blocks, simplifying the entire process. It will also significantly reduce the time required for on-site installation and commissioning, while on-demand deployment and online upgrades can be performed to meet various service needs.
A data centre in Dongguan used a fully modular solution for pre-production, pre-installation and pre-commissioning. It took only six months to build this five-storey, 1,000-cabinet data centre and get it up and running.
The time to market for this data centre is less than half the average, setting a new industry record.
Huge demand for computing power
Statistics from Global Industry Vision (GIV) 2025 by Huawei and IDC show that 80% of data growth in 2020 consisted of unstructured data. Such data, being difficult to process, cannot be stored and fully exploited due to limited processing power.
The value of massive amounts of unstructured data is yet to be unleashed, and it will be necessary to tap into the full value of this unstructured data. This will require data centres with stronger computing and storage capabilities, as well as networks that connect servers and storage devices with zero packet loss, low latency and larger bandwidth.
In short, the general performance of data centres needs to be boosted. High-density data centres will inevitably become needed more and more.
High-density automated computing servers, high-performance and large-capacity storage, and data centre networks with zero packet loss will all be necessary to improve the general computing power of data centres.
Simpler and more efficient O&M
A data centre is a complex system, comprising various subsystems that oversee power supply and distribution, refrigeration, humidification, ventilation, fire prevention and much more.
The sheer variety of equipment makes O&M a difficult task. It often takes a long time to locate an equipment failure, and O&M costs increase as the workload of data centres increases. This will lead to a greater shortage of O&M professionals.
Humans are responsible for data centre O&M at the moment, and the demand for O&M specialists has been steadily rising in recent years.
Striving for digital and intelligent technologies and cutting O&M costs will undoubtedly be key to improving O&M and management efficiency in data centres.
Next-generation data centres must be built on a unified and intelligent digital foundation, and offer functions such as visualised power distribution and refrigeration, intelligent positioning of the root causes of a warning, and equipment failure prediction and analysis. This will reduce failures and shorten repair times.
Technologies such as digital twin, 3D visualisation, and temperature cloud diagram allow us to monitor equipment rooms in three dimensions, further simplifying O&M.
Large-screen displays, combined with digital monitoring maps and mobile apps, make it possible to monitor multiple data centres anytime, anywhere.
In short, the next-generation smart full-stack data centres are designed in every way to deliver the best possible customer experience at minimal cost, from rollout and energy consumption to O&M and performance.
In the last decade or so, the success of the mobile internet and cloud computing has woven cloud services into the fabric of our daily lives. Data centres on which cloud computing is built have become an essential part of modern society.
In the coming decade, data centres — the foundation of our digital society — will play an increasingly important role, as they are combined with new technologies like 5G and automation, to empower the digital transformation of industries.
Whether an operator can survive and grow will rely on their ability to fully use data centres and 5G networks and provide platforms that offer personalised digital services for different industries.
Adopting the next-generation full-stack data centres to create an efficient and intelligent digital foundation will undoubtedly be the key to carriers’ success in this era of digital transformation.
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