How will Artificial Intelligence Drive the Growth of Future Data Centers?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been around for quite some time now, disrupting businesses and sectors with its capabilities to boost performance and bring in operational efficacies. The data center industry is no exception. In today’s time, data holds a huge significance for any organisation, and what’s equally important is managing that data effectively. Once filtered and crunched, the harvested data proves vital to making strategic business decisions for companies. Hence, companies are investing in advanced automation tools for data processing and migrating to hyperscale data centers to upgrade their IT infrastructure. Explosion of data in recent years has led hyperscalers to innovate and deploy AI technologies in their facilities to handle tasks autonomously.

The use of automation technologies in data centers is hardly new. For example, Google has explained the use of DeepMind AI for cooling. However, companies are yet to leverage AI/ML to the fullest. Factors such as distrust in technology have obstructed many organisations to take a leap towards AI. While the most known use cases for AI deployment in data centers are temperature control and predictive maintenance, AI’s potential to enhance the efficiency of a data center infrastructure is far more than widely known. Let’s look at some use cases of AI in data centers that will change the future of the industry.

Managing Workloads

As data center workloads move upward with an increase in data, many businesses are looking towards AI to boost efficiency and cut expenses. AI can be used to determine the workload movement in a hybrid setting in real-time to the most efficient infrastructure that could be cloud, on-premise or edge infrastructure. As AI makes its way into the data center industry, organisations are adopting innovative approaches to handle their data to allow more use of robust AI techniques and analytics.

Gartner predicts that by 2025, 70% of organisations will shift their focus from big to small and wide data; this will facilitate more context for analytics and make AI less data-hungry. Small data approach provides useful insights with fewer data, whereas broad data offers analysis performed on various large, unstructured data in diverse data formats. Together, both approaches allow advanced analytics and AI, reducing the reliability of big data.

Mitigating people shortage

Automated technologies in data centers promise less human intervention in regular and repetitive tasks. It frees up staff from mundane activities such as storage optimisation, cooling distribution, security settings and so on and allows them time to focus on more critical issues. It not only achieves greater efficiencies but also reduces the risk of human errors while handling complex and diverse workloads. For example, at our Yotta NM1 data center, in case of a leakage in a chiller pipe, a sensor-enabled Leak Detection System not only diagnoses the leakage but also mitigates the problem in real-time without manual intervention. Upon detection of leakage in the chiller pipeline, the system automatically diverts the water flow from an alternate pipeline. All this can be managed without running the risk of downtime in the data center. Automation is creating a pathway for data centers to go from reactive to preventative, leading to predictive.

Maximising power efficiencies

Power consumption is one of the most critical issues for data centers across the globe. Energy costs surge by at least 10% every year; its increased use in high-density servers is also not sustainable for the environment. Deploying AI/ML technologies can be a solution to the increased energy use in data centers. Systems in data centers generate significant heat; traditionally, air conditioners, chillers, water pumps are controlled by Building Management System (BMS) to keep the temperature in check. However, it is not energy efficient. AI-based power management can help optimise cooling systems by analysing historical data and creating a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) prediction model, cutting power costs and improving efficiency.

Enhancing security

In a hyperscale data center, where several events occur together, it is nearly impossible for humans to monitor and alert everyone in case of threat situations. AI-powered tools have proven useful in such areas. For example, image and sound recognition capabilities are being used widely to enhance the physical security of a data center facility; AI analytics is being used as a video surveillance solution to make sense of data collected by security cameras. Machine Learning techniques are also being leveraged for anomaly detection, where the system is trained to identify usual patterns and detect the irregular ones.

For example, again, at our Yotta NM1 data center, we have AI integrated security cameras keeping an eye over critical locations. These cameras will raise a ticket to the security control room of the data center if they detect more than 10 people gathered at the front gate or if they detect an unattended object in the premises for a certain period of time. Without automation, it would take hundreds of security personnel to watch over the physical security of the data center 24/7, which can often span into acres. This technique is also helpful in predictive analysis, where the AI system flags off any unusual occurrence in advance to be checked before a system completely breaks down. Hence, data center security can be strengthened by using AI for self-learning threat detection and monitoring algorithms.

Data centers of the future will certainly be more AI dominant, and almost all functions in the facility will be automated. Though these technologies are only in the hands of a few large hyperscalers and enterprises, they will soon trickle down to other data center players as technology upgrades, trust grows, and costs are cut down. Moreover, given the digital adoption accelerated by the pandemic, these advancements will be seen in practice sooner than later.

Top 5 Predictions that will shape up Indian Data Center Industry in 2021

Here are some of the key trends that will shape up the Indian data center industry in 2021:

As the world is gearing up for the massive COVID-19 vaccination drive, the power of digital can be seen. India is one of the few countries to roll out the vaccination programme successfully. This has been made possible only with the help of underlying robust digital infrastructure that the government created for inventory management and delivery mechanism of vaccine for the last-mile connectivity. Besides, the converging technologies like cloud, mobility, analytics, robotics, and AI/ML helped in better planning and testing several innovative approaches to vaccination drive.

It is understood that the data generated out of this massive exercise will be on the cloud, which in turn, will reside on data centers – be it government or private, or a third party like Yotta. As a data hub, data center providers are ensuring the security of the data hosted and at the same time, providing accessibility without any hurdles. Looking at the criticality and significance, one can say that the need for digital infrastructure and data centers has increased by leaps and bounds.

Similarly, this year business organisations will focus on recovering from the pandemic. And in this process, the focus will be on digital investments that can drive their transformation strategies. As the enterprises are going to fast-track their digital transformation journey to gain competitive advantage, the role of data centers will become even more important.

Against this backdrop, we have outlined some of the key trends that will shape up the Indian data center industry in 2021:

The growing demand for robust digital infrastructure & future-ready hyperscale data centers, to transform the country into a digitally empowered society. The government’s push for data localisation and introduction of Data Protection Bill indicate that India will need a big dose of infrastructure in terms of data centers. According to JLL Report on (re)Imagine Data Centers: Running India’s Digital Economy, India’s data center industry provided crucial support and boost to the digital economy during the pandemic. The report also suggests that the country’s data center capacity is expected to grow from 375 MW in H1 2020 to 1,078 MW by 2025, registering a CAGR of 21%; and higher commitments from hyperscalers and lower availability of large data center spaces expected to drive expansions by existing and new data center operators. Even the emerging use cases around AI, ML, IoT will accelerate the demand for robust digital infrastructure. With the rise in data volume and growing digital consumption, multi-tenant, hyperscale data centers will become a must.

Public Cloud continues to ignite end-to-end digital transformation, delivering on its promise of scalability, cost-efficiency, and resiliency. To drive innovative and profitable business models, enterprises must align their business transformation efforts with the adoption of the public cloud platform. This is indicated by the results of the India Enterprise Cloud Survey 2020 as well, which suggests that across infrastructure, software, and platform, a clear shift is happening towards public cloud. And going forward, more and more workloads, including mission-critical enterprise applications, are being planned to be migrated to the public cloud. Hence, it will not be possible for most organisations to transform their businesses digitally unless they move some of their IT applications and infrastructure into the public cloud.

Operating business in Everything-as-a-Service economy, maintaining a profitable, cost-efficient business without making long term CAPEX and OPEX commitment. With more and more services are being delivered on cloud, providing virtual access to everything and digital technologies like AI/ML and IoT playing a critical role in building these services, Everything-as-a-Service will gradually become an imperative for a truly digital-native enterprise. Consuming everything on ‘As-a-Service’ model will make sure that businesses are not only scaling up or down faster but also delivering new and innovative services and seamless customer experiences. At the same time, the infrastructure providers need to partner with as many SMEs, SOHOs, and Start-Ups possible, and convert their services into ‘As-a-Service’ model so that businesses can focus on their core expertise and handle their IT needs on a cost-efficient basis.

  • AI-powered tools & applications to drive autonomous systems in data centers, ensuring reliability, high availability, redundancy, and resiliency. More and more data center operators will deploy automation tools within their premises for monitoring purpose. Intelligent monitoring systems and automation solutions are driven by AI will help create smart data centers offering features like remote operating system installation, intelligent metrics, firmware updates, network, storage configuration, etc. AI/ML technology will also be used to make data centers operationally and economically viable by aiding data center management with cooling, increasing energy efficiency, failure or operational bottlenecks predictions as well as helping with cybersecurity.

Renewed focus on energy consumption & efficiency, adopting green power, improving efficiencies, and reducing operating costs. For the data center industry, on-site power generation using renewable energy sources like solar, natural gas, and wind or offsetting their carbon use will become more important. This will make the data center service providers self-reliant in their power needs and offer the customers considerable savings on power tariff. It is imperative for the data center operators to make commitments to achieve carbon neutrality, and in this endeavour, they need to reduce their digital infrastructure carbon footprints. Besides, they will look to implement more energy-efficient cooling systems, servers, power supplies, and optimise power management. Datacenter players need to constantly find ways to use energy efficiently to pass on those savings to their customers.

By now, it is evident that without the cloud, mobility, security solutions, or collaboration tools, businesses could not have implemented remote working model and maintained business continuity. And to thrive in the post-pandemic world, the enterprises will continue their spend on cloud platforms and other digital technologies. This growing adoption of the technology-driven business model means the demand for multi-tenant, hyperscale data centers will soar high, opening a plethora of opportunities for both domestic and international data center operators.


Protecting Data in the Face of Disasters and Calamities

In recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of adverse incidents and contingencies that organizations prepare for as part of their business continuity planning (BCP). There are enough incidents of fire and other natural calamities that have destroyed offices, IT equipment, data servers, and more. In 2012, a fire at Mantralaya (the administrative HQ of the Government of Maharashtra in Mumbai) caused the loss of ten terabytes of data including crucial and sensitive records, and more recently, a fire incident at a business hub in South Mumbai caused widespread damage to IT equipment including captive data servers. Considering the digital age that we live in, data is the most valuable resource, so any outage in accessing that data comes with a hefty price tag.

According to recent research by Uptime Institute, which calculated the cost of downtime, approximately 33% of all incidents cost enterprises over the US$250,000 with 15% of downtime episodes costing more than US$1 million. So, it is no surprise that ensuring the physical safety and security of all data within the network has emerged as a top agenda for the custodians of infrastructure and operations. And this has made CIOs who invest in captive data centers re-think their data center strategy.

Limitations of captive/on-premise data centers

Traditionally, businesses have preferred captive data storage solutions. While it provides a sense of safety, any threat to an establishment that restricts physical access to the data center becomes a business-critical risk. This includes natural calamities like a cyclone or an earthquake, floods as experienced by Mumbai and Chennai in recent years that result in a power outage, fire, or a situation like the COVID-19-induced lockdown. Besides not having access to data, some of the other key issues with the traditional approach include:

High cost of data center downtime: Outages caused due to faults with the data center or any other factor that hinders the access to data can cripple business operations. So, if technical support staff is unable to attend a fault at an on-premise data center due to the lockdown, the operations come to a standstill. And in the competitive world that we operate in today, the cost of such a dent in reputation can be quite high.

Lack of agility: In-house data centers are slower to respond to business requirements as well as external factors such as a change in technology because of the capital outlay and intensive planning it takes. This lack of agility and ability to scale up or down based on business demand places businesses with captive data centers at a distinct disadvantage.

Incompatibility with BCP of the future: While we try and figure all the nuances of a post-pandemic world, the ability of an organization to enable work from home has become the starting point of business continuity. This includes providing all employees with secure and reliable access to all data, at all times. So, for organizations looking ahead, a diversified enterprise data policy will form an essential aspect of their future BCP.

Inaccessibility due to lockdown: Amidst this pandemic, where organizations are running on minimum strength or are under lockdown, they face a volatile situation in case of a disaster as they cannot access their premises for preventive or regular maintenance. On the other hand, an MTDC operates with specialized technicians and support staff to maintain the same. Also, data centers are categorized under essential services; hence they work without any disruption due to the lockdown and ensure business continuity for you and your customers.

Why moving to a Multi-Tenant Data Center (MTDC) makes business sense?

As more businesses accept the new realities and look to upgrade their IT infrastructure to prepare for tomorrow, multi-tenant data centers (MTDC) have emerged as a viable solution. However, MTDCs come in all shapes and forms, while most of them offer a set of basic advantages, the following parameters are useful to evaluate the best option for your requirements:

Reliability of service: The primary purpose of adopting an MTDC approach is to ensure reliable service with an assured near-zero downtime and continued operability even in the worst-case scenario. Tier IV certified MTDCs like the Yotta NM1 data center in Panvel are designed for power outages and are equipped with redundant backup facilities that ensure uninterrupted service for up to 48 hours with full IT load without any supply from the primary electrical grid.

Physical safety and security: Third-party data centers have dedicated technicians and support staff for the smooth functioning and quick redressal of issues. Additionally, MTDCs also provide multiple layers of protection such as security guards, biometrics and access management to prevent unauthorized access, as well as disaster recovery protocols for severe worst-case scenarios.

Tier IV certification: Uptime Institute’s certification for data centers has become a leading benchmark for the industry. It ranges from ‘I’ through ‘IV’ with Tier IV Certification being the highest. Listed below are some of the service criteria you could use to evaluate the provider along with the benchmarks that Tier IV certified MTDCs offer:

Concurrent maintenance: In traditional systems, any planned or unplanned maintenance in any equipment meant that the data center had to go offline. While some older systems offer redundancies for some functions, Tier IV MTDCs provide a minimum N+1 redundancy at all levels which allow administrators to carry out concurrent maintenance without disrupting IT loads or any operation.

Fault-tolerant: Power and cooling systems play a crucial role in the normal functioning of a data center. Any sudden defect caused in either system due to a leak in the chilled water pipeline or a glitch in a related component can cause a shutdown. Tier IV certification requires automatic detection, isolation, arrest and containment of such situations. The automatic switching to standby equipment through redundant distribution paths avoids any downtime.

Protection against fire: Compartmentalisation offers fire separation among working and standby equipment for power, cooling and BMS including that for active distribution paths that control those functions. Additional physical measures and use of fire-rated components also shield against consequential damage and ensure that server racks suffer no downtime. Even IT cooling loads continue operating at full capacity.

Consequential Effects of Fire Protection: Uptime Institute designed Tier IV data centers also continue to function despite any consequential damage caused to the equipment resulting from the heavy spray of water from the fire protection systems. Thanks to the concurrent Ingress Protection and Fire Ratings of Bus-ducts and all control cables that limit the damage, all system including server racks, full IT load and cooling load remain operational in the aftermath of a fire incident.

Business continuity, reliability, and peace of mind

As the lifeline of any modern-day organization, data is priceless. Additionally, any downtime in access to data has a real-world impact on businesses in the form of tarnished reputation or even financial losses. So, despite a marginally higher capital cost, MTDCs make for a better business decision in comparison with on-premise data centers. Thus, while from an operational perspective, it offers better business continuity, a managed data center service provider or an MTDC that offers end-to-end management also provides reliability and most importantly – peace of mind.

Understanding data center and cloud services in the post Covid-19 world

With the prolonged lockdown and the resultant stay-at-home orders, businesses across India dealt with supply chain shortages and slowdowns and were re-aligning their IT infrastructure strategies to operate without on-premise access or having a reliable infrastructure to ensure business continuity and downtime prevention. The pandemic thus has fast-tracked the evolution of many businesses into becoming digitally native, and enterprises had to adopt new ways of working and upgrade their IT infrastructures aggressively.

The Covid-19 outbreak reinstated that India needs far more data center capacity than we currently have. Data centers were put to the test as a large workforce suddenly moved to remote working during the global crisis. Companies were able to access, manage and process their data from a remote location due to data center networks working full throttle, to the extent of data center services being classified as one of the essential services. The emergence and acceptance of the new normal – adoption of cloud and acceleration of digitisation – have now become the pillars of the business continuity strategies for the post-Covid-19 world.

The burgeoning demand

The demand for data center and cloud solutions was already on the rise due to data localisation, and it has further increased exponentially during the pandemic. Working from home has accelerated the demand for Software as a Service (SaaS), which is driving tremendous traffic to data centers. Organisations are looking to outsource and are inclined towards third party cloud and data center service providers. Global cloud migration services are expected to grow at a CAGR of about 24% between 2020 to 2024 as per the market research by Technavio. Data centers and cloud are undoubtedly an integral part of business continuity strategies of companies to run operations with a distributed workforce amid the lockdown successfully. According to Statista, the industry revenues are expected to increase to over $50 billion per year by 2023 due to the rise in cloud adoption and data center services by many companies.

Less investment, flexibility, and scalability are the key factors that are driving the rapid adoption of cloud computing solutions among SMEs and MSMEs. The proliferation of investments in emerging technologies like IoT, AI/ML, analytics, big data, and other advanced technologies have resulted in the rapid adoption of cloud and data center solutions.

Rapid development in data centers

To ensure competitive advantage and ensure the highest level of reliability possible, data center players are abandoning the traditional construction models and using new technologies to upgrade and increase efficiency. Companies now require highly scalable data centers which offer thorough assessment, better management, disaster recovery, and fault tolerance. Uptime Institute Tier IV certified data centers can operate without interruption even when one or more of components of the system fail by preventing disruptions arising from the failure point. A fault-tolerant data center can prove to be significant in disaster recovery strategy; the system can backup components in the cloud and restore critical systems quickly, even if a natural or industrial disaster destroys IT infrastructure.

Hybrid cloud is the way to go

Hybrid cloud is helping companies to work with a flexible cloud model that suits different workgroups. This type of cloud provides improved data and IT management to derive better efficiency and increased productivity. Companies can move heavy workloads between private and public cloud easily and do not require additional CAPEX. These benefits allow businesses to easily shift to an OPEX model and save significant costs during such unprecedented times. Organisations are recalibrating their plans in the post-Covid-19 environment to derive maximum benefits from the cloud and gain competitive advantage. Leveraging hybrid cloud services is essential to scale up the efforts, sustain in the present environment, and prepare for future disruptions.

Exploring managed services

Agility and continuity are extremely valuable for the businesses in the current times of crises. As it has been difficult lately to get access to data centers or manage captive data centers, companies are moving towards outsourced managed service providers. While the IT staff finds it challenging to manage the IT infrastructure remotely, they are relying on colocation hyperscale providers for network optimisation, installations, managed cloud, and security services. Even post Covid-19, businesses will have to understand their need to utilize managed services to continue providing support to their IT teams, focus on business continuity, processes and tools to keep their employees safe and productive.

Development of next-generation data centers includes moving to edge computing, enabling AI to innovate and automate processes, and integrating SDDC (Software-Defined Data Center) to access and manage tasks from a remote location. Amid the Covid-19 crisis, global corporate giants and prominent investors are focused on the rising potential market for digital infrastructure. The data center industry will therefore be a critical catalyst to the growth of emerging technologies. Hyper scalers are roping in big corporations with excellent credibility as their customers which is further luring investors to enter the data center market.

It is slowly becoming certain that the world will never be the same post-Covid-19. Instead, it will continue to innovate and transform to prosper the global economy in future, and this is where data centers and cloud will undoubtedly play an integral part.


How will Data localization impact the Data Center Market in India?

India – the Land of Rising Data

India is one of the largest generators of data currently. Thanks to our young demographic and deep technology penetration, our data consumption is expected to grow at the rate of 72.6% by 2020 according to a study by Assocham-PwC. Digital data in India was around 40,000 petabytes in 2010; it is likely to shoot up to 2.3 million petabytes by 2020 — twice as fast as the global rate. There is a debate going on in the country currently to store the enormous amount of data within national borders.

Data Localization – Gathering Momentum

The Data Protection Act suggested by the Srikrishna committee, aims at protecting the data of citizens by storing it locally. Another reason for data localization is to help government form better domestic policies for its citizens; RBI has already come out with the mandate for companies to store all the financial data locally.

This move has led to many companies ramping up their data center capacity in the country. Amazon has invested around $197 million (Rs 1,380 crore) in its data services arm in the country. Similar aggressive plans have been announced by ByteDance, Google, Microsoft and many financial institutions. Flipkart too has been strengthening its technology infrastructure. It opened its third data center in Hyderabad in April this year after Chennai and Mumbai, especially after acquisition by Walmart. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has also announced its intention to come up with guidelines that will mandate foreign entities to store data pertaining to India locally.

This has generated a lot of interest in the data center business, among large conglomerates and global tech giants.

Rush for the Data Center Pie

The Hiranandani Group recently entered the data center space with Yotta Infrastructure with plans to build 3 data center parks across Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Chennai with a capacity of 60,000 racks. The Adani Group has committed to developing large data center parks in Andhra Pradesh over the next 20 years. Existing data center players like Sify, STT, CtrlS, NTT are planning to ramp capacities and international players like Colt and Bridge have also announced their first data center project in India.

Most of the players have officially made statements in media that government’s decision to move forward with data localization is one of the major reasons why they are bullish on data center market. India currently needs to ramp up its data center capacity by at least 15 times in next 7 to 8 years to be able to handle the massive amount of data influx that will enter its borders because of data localization.

How Does this Help Local Businesses?

The next logical question is – will data localization help Indian businesses? It certainly will. Storing data locally will reduce network latency and improve speed. Companies can expect availability of quality talent at lower cost with all data getting stored locally and with the existence of many other strong market drivers like growth of user data, e-commerce, growth of cloud etc. Some of the latest providers with resource ownership will be able to build massive capacities of data centers at much higher scalability and quality but at much reduced costs and round-the-clock personal service. Big Basket, the online grocery store shifted its data centre from Singapore to Mumbai and noticed up to 10 per cent improvements in transaction efficiency.

If one was to compare the cost of manpower, real estate and bandwidth, India is at least 60% cheaper than US or Singapore. These savings will ultimately go to the customers looking for rack space. With large corporate houses having their own power generation and distribution capacities coming in, the cost of data centers should also reduce significantly. Some providers will also utilise selective benefits as made available by Government in terms of duties and taxes levied on power and on the imported equipment/services.

India is a more viable and economic place to build and operate large scale Data centers. Hopefully the government will stick with its decision to go ahead with data localization and we will soon be storing our data in our own land.