The Data Center Frontier Executive Roundtable features insights from industry executives with lengthy experience in the data center industry. Here’s a look at the insights from Chris Sharp of Digital Realty.
Chris Sharp is the Executive VP and Chief Technology Officer of Digital Realty. Chris has over 20 years of experience in the technology industry, with an extensive background in developing technology strategies in global markets. He has a deep knowledge of the data center sector and is well positioned to expand technical innovation at Digital Realty. Most recently, he was responsible for cloud innovation at Equinix, where he led the development of innovative cloud services solutions and developed new capabilities enabling next-generation, high-performance exchange and interconnection solutions, facilitating broad commercial adoption of cloud computing on a global basis. Previously, Mr. Sharp held leadership positions at top network and colocation providers, including Qwest Communications, MCI/Verizon Business and Reliance Globalcom.
Here’s the full text of Chris Sharp’s insights from our Executive Roundtable:
Data Center Frontier: As digital transformation gains momentum, enterprises are managing more data in more places. How will the explosive growth of data (“data gravity”) impact the growth and geography of digital infrastructure in 2020?
Chris Sharp: In 2020 and for the next decade really, we’ll see major cities and metros like New York, Tokyo, San Francisco, Singapore, and London become the world’s leading digital capitals. In fact, we recently reported that AI, IoT, 5G, and blockchain will further increase the explosion of data in these major areas, with the data generated expected to increase 60% annually in the next five years. The result is a growing IT imperative to distribute applications closer to this data by creating new centers of data in major metros around the world, creating the data gravity effect.
The accelerating speed of technological innovation is putting immense pressure on organizations and their IT infrastructure. As pointed out by 451’s enterprise IT research, 70% of enterprises plan to expand geographically within the next two years, creating urgency to modernize IT infrastructure to become distributed and decentralized. Companies must support their digital transformation strategies by maintaining centers of data where they do business, rather than working against data gravity and inefficiently transporting data to a central location. Gartner’s recent report predicts that by 2022, 60% of enterprise IT infrastructures will focus on centers of data, rather than traditional data centers.
With PlatformDIGITAL, we at Digital Realty are uniquely able to enable our customers to deploy their IT infrastructure at the centers of data exchange around the world, bringing users, things, applications, clouds, and networks to the data. We’re committed to providing fit-for-purpose infrastructure in 2020 and beyond, so that our customers can power their digital transformation at the scale and speed they require, no matter where they are located.
Data Center Frontier: There’s a lot of buzz about 5G wireless. What is the likely impact of the 5G rollout on the data center industry, and when will we see it begin to drive meaningful growth?
Chris Sharp: The first major impact of the 5G rollout will be the movement of massive amounts of data through faster and virtualized networking and wireless infrastructure. Data centers will be at the heart of enabling 5G in all applications for the foreseeable future. In order to create a seamless and invisible wireless network that connects all devices and applications with those devices, data center and colocation providers will need to develop centers of data exchange where data can be transferred, stored and processed close to the end users. However, this isn’t to say that we need to redesign the data center; it’s more that we need to design a distributed data center platform that enable a seamless core-to-edge 5G architecture.
5G will mean bringing together cloud, core, and the edge. However, it’s important that each of these runs on, or has access to, the correct types of infrastructure. For example, there will always be a need for a centralized core even with the importance of edge computing for 5G.
5G will bring about network architectures that are faster and more robust, bringing the core closer to the end and lessening the reliance on edge computing for many applications. In addition, cloud operators are developing new edge workload requirements, 5G radio antennas are smaller, and there is new spectrum coming to market, all of this requiring purpose-built infrastructure.
It’s expected that 5G will become commercially available in 2020, and while there is already some 5G infrastructure being deployed, we believe it will likely take a few more years before the technology is ubiquitous. However, data center and colocation providers must prepare today to be ready with the 5G-enabled data center once the use cases catch up to the technology.
Data Center Frontier: Last year several studies indicated that rack density level is increasing. How might the growing use of artificial intelligence and edge computing impact rack density and the world of data center cooling?
Chris Sharp: With the explosion of AI and IoT in the enterprise, data gravity has become one of the biggest challenges to successful digital transformations. The explosive growth of data means it is now heavier, denser, and more expensive to move. At the same time, these new technologies require data centers to support a higher level of computational power, electricity usage, and heat generation, requiring specialized power and cooling techniques that aren’t available in the enterprise basement.
Organizations across all industries are using AI to meet business challenges and increase efficiency. It’s also important to note that not every colocation facility is prepared to support these compute-intensive technologies in a multi-tenant environment. Per-rack power demands for AI can easily and regularly do exceed what standard data centers can deliver. To put into context, the average kilowatt per rack is around 7kW, but with AI, applications can pull more than 30 kW per rack. As per-rack power demands rise, so does the need for highly efficient cooling.
One of the ways data center operators are addressing these data-intensive technologies is through various next-generation cooling technologies, including liquid cooling and direct air cooling. While it isn’t the right fit for all workloads, liquid cooling enables ultra-high-density equipment be deployed in otherwise low- or medium-density facilities, essentially retrofitting a data center for future applications.
“Not every colocation facility is prepared to support compute-intensive (AI) technologies in a multi-tenant environment. ”
Chris Sharp, Digital Realty
As part of our commitment to lead the data center into the future, we’re partnering with companies like Submer Technologies to help customers evaluate the potential applications of new cooling technologies and support their future data center infrastructure needs.
Data Center Frontier: The data center industry is finally talking more about its diversity problem. How does this translate into real-world improvement in the representation of women in the industry? What are the concrete steps that can bring change?
Chris Sharp: Talking is one thing, but we need action over words when it comes to creating a diverse workforce. As an industry, we need to ensure that women are being represented across all levels, have access to meaningful training and development opportunities, and are being heard. To do that, we need to focus on not only our recruiting efforts, but also on ensuring that women are being hired and trained in an inclusive environment.
Some of the ways we’re working to achieve our diversity goals are by ensuring we have women across the company at all levels as well as on our board. Earlier this year we welcomed retired Lt. Gen. VeraLinn “Dash” Jamieson and Alexis Black Bjorlin, Ph.D. to our board of directors, two women who bring significant experience directly relevant to our strategy of enabling customers’ digital transformation.
Additionally, a few years ago Suzie Gleeson, Digital Realty’s VP of Global Accounts Sales, co-founded the Women’s Leadership Forum at Digital Realty. The community provides collaboration and support in a collegial environment for women at the company. Suzie’s efforts go beyond Digital Realty as she also co-founded the Women’s Tech Forum (WTF), an open environment for women in the data center industry to come together and build relationships. Starting in March, in honor of International Women’s Day, the WTF will publish a monthly spotlight of a Digital Realty woman, showcasing the work she is doing to power digital ambitions and the ways in which she is driving innovation in the industry.
We’ve still got a long way to go as an industry, but it’s important that we keep taking the right steps to ensure women are being well represented, and for us, that means being sure they have many seats at the table.