Datacenter Trends

The Datacenter in 2020 and Beyond: More Edge, 'As-a-Service' and AI

The next few years are going to be lively ones for the datacenter, with more than half of new infrastructure being deployed in edge locations, half of core enterprise datacenters and two-thirds of the major edge IT sites leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), more than half of datacenter infrastructure running "as-a-service" solutions, and a steadily growing number of companies relying on colocation partners.

Those were a few of the predictions offered by the industry watchers at IDC last week with the release the analyst firm's first annual "Futurescape" forecast focused on the datacenter. Emphasizing trends emerging in 2020, the report was presented in part during a webcast led by some of its authors.

"At the core of all of our predictions is the reality that technology is very rapidly moving from the back office to the front office," said Jennifer Cooke, research director of IDC's Cloud to Edge Datacenter Trends and Strategies research team. "And a lot of this is about the boundaries between an organization's internal operations and external ecosystem of customers, partners and markets. These boundaries are just disappearing."

The most significant changes coming to the datacenter over the next few years are going to be the result of the digital transformations currently sweeping enterprises, Cooke explained, because all those digital transformation projects are actually built on datacenter resources.

"We see datacenters as a foundation of much of this change as business models shift from physical to digital, and the ability to analyze, protect and ultimately leverage the data becomes the lifeblood of business," she said. "Datacenters are what enables these capabilities."

Specifically, IDC identified seven drivers of change in the datacenter space:

  1. A new "age of innovation"
  2. Accelerated disruption
  3. The "platform economy"
  4. The "sense, compute, act" model
  5. Strategic responses to security threats
  6. "Intelligence everywhere"
  7. Rising customer expectations for more convenience, customization and control

The impact of AI on the datacenter is a standout on this list, Cooke said. IDC expects that by 2023, 50 percent of core enterprise datacenters and 75 percent of major edge IT sites will leverage AI- and ML- enabled controls to transform maintenance and improve the efficient use of energy resources. We're seeing the promise of AI becoming real, she said, and that technology will be transforming how datacenters are managed.

Not surprisingly, enterprise cloud adoption and the desire of companies to spend less on their datacenters are going to significantly affect the evolution of the datacenter over the next few years, said Richard Villars, research vice president of Datacenter and Cloud in IDC's IT Infrastructure research team. In fact, IDC predicts that by 2024, more than 75 percent of infrastructure in edge locations will be consumed and/or operated via an as-a-service model, as will more than half of datacenter infrastructure.

That prediction dovetails with another one: By 2023, IDC says, more than 50 percent of new infrastructure deployed will be in increasingly critical edge locations rather than corporate datacenters, up from less than 10 percent today.

"We see a dramatic shift here," Villars said. "Corporations are going to be deploying a lot more assets out of edge locations to deliver things like machine vision, advanced customer experience services, and more integrated operations and autonomous operations of devices. And at the same time, they're going to be making a greater use of larger colocation facilities and cloud for some of their existing datacenter workloads. So it's a combination of one portion of load strength going down and another portion going up. This is a fundamental shift in where infrastructure assets reside in a corporation -- and this is only going to increase the need and the concerns around data and physical security."

As the number of edge locations increases, Villars added, IT organizations are going to need to leverage more remote, autonomous, self-driving and self-managing systems. And one of the best ways to address those issues is by leveraging colocation facilities near edge locations where they can get access to the service support teams of the facility. Given these trends, IDC's guidance for IT organizations and CIOs over the near term is to establish effective processes for asset management.

"You need to know where all these edge resources are, where they're deployed, what's their status, what's their availability, how consistently they're operating," Villars said.

The data is critical to business operations, he added, and business success is tied to what's being created and consumed at the edge. Trust in that data is now essential to effective digital transformation. "We're going to have to be sure that we can actually manage and govern that data," he said.

One of the trends affecting the future of the datacenter that IDC underscored has been evolving for a number of years: the growth of the service model. Surveys indicate consistently that this model addresses key pain points in infrastructure management, said Susan Middleton, research director of IDC's Flexible Consumption and Financing Strategies in IDC's IT Infrastructure research team. Also, more and more infrastructure vendors are branding themselves as-a-service providers, she said, stating publicly that these programs are fundamental to future growth. In fact, this year IDC saw an acceleration of these new models and introductions from vendors.

"We've been finding that more and more organizations find that the flexibility, transparency and simplicity of these models reduce the complexity of investing in maintaining IT assets," Middleton explained. "They often improve the total cost of ownership and reduce IT stack workload. And this is a key factor; we're finding that the benefits go far beyond just cost metrics, and really can reduce IT staff workload, [so they can] develop and focus on more business initiatives that improve revenue and opportunities for the company. And this is a significant shift away from just evaluating the cost metric."

The entire Futurescape datacenter forecast is available for a fee from IDC. You need the full report to get the details and recommendations, but the firm provided a complete list of its predictions during the webcast:

  • By 2023, more than 50 percent of new infrastructure deployed will be in increasingly critical edge locations rather than corporate datacenters, up from less than 10 percent today.
  • In 2020, 40 percent of enterprises' datacenter investments will be associated with running composite apps that need reliable/secure interconnect to third-party resources in cloud or colocation facilities.
  • By 2023, 80 percent of workloads will shift to or be created with containers/microservices, reducing per-app infrastructure needs by 60 percent while driving a 70 percent improvement in digital service resiliency.
  • By 2022, 40 percent of enterprises will take advantage of hyper-customized infrastructure services for in-memory data and heterogenous computing to reduce time to embed AI into standard business processes.
  • By 2023, 50 percent of core enterprise datacenters and 75 percent of major edge IT sites will leverage ML- and AI-enabled controls to transform maintenance and improve the efficient use of energy resources.
  • In 2022, 30 percent of consumer-facing businesses will deploy and securely operate infrastructure to deliver an optimal digital experience for customers, employees and smart things in many locations.
  • By 2024, over 75 percent of infrastructure in edge locations will be consumed/operated via an as-a-service model, as will more than half of datacenter infrastructure.
  • By 2021, close scrutiny from regulators/governments on infrastructure standards and AI use will shape enterprises' technology and facility choices, similar to developments in data protection/privacy.
  • By 2022, 40 percent of companies will incorporate metrics on digital resiliency for autonomous facilities and provider-operated infrastructure into C-level and board-level business dashboards.
  • By 2022, 60 percent of companies will rely on colocation partners to provide most of the connectivity services and power-optimized facilities designed to improve performance for edge-based AI investments.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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