By all accounts, the new decade has gotten off to a pretty tumultuous start. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant 2020 has been a year of big changes for us all – many businesses either no longer operating as business as usual or implementing working from home measures.
This has meant now more than ever people and businesses are relying on tech to get their jobs done and provide them with some escape. With this in mind, one particular area facing major changes are our data centre networks. The proliferation of data centres in the 1990s and 2000s was subsequently followed by the centralisation of computing and its infrastructure. However, the rise of the public cloud which consolidated this centralised approach has now led to the pendulum swinging once again back to decentralisation and the edge.
In fact, according to Gartner, today 90% of data is created and processed inside centralised data centres or the cloud. By 2025 this will have massively changed, as about 75% of data will need to be processed, analysed, and acted upon at the edge.
So, just what is the edge and why does it matter?
Simply put, with the edge or rather edge computing, IT infrastructure is moved to edge data centres that are located either directly on the premises or at locations near to end-users. It’s the proximity of edge-data centres to end-users that is their strength – namely the ability to support applications that require more bandwidth, quicker response times or are latency-sensitive.
The swing back to the edge and decentralisation has largely been driven by digital transformation and the increasing need to harness data from devices using 5G, IoT or AI in order to create real-time, connected experiences.
In fact, according to a study carried out by Gartner, the next generation of business innovation will be powered by the likes of 5G, IoT and AI. These technologies will drive a massive amount of data production, with more than 7.5 billion connect devices being used by businesses in 2020 alone.
Yet, these devices will not be located in centralised hubs or in the hearts of vast metropolitan cities alone, rather they will spread out throughout the populations they service. This means in order for them to reach their full potential – for example, say with 5G with its promise of low latency and high levels of interconnection – our data centre infrastructure will need to change, the fact edge data centres can be located either on or nearby to where they’re needed is what makes them crucial for these technologies.
How will data centres change?
With such a fundamental change you can undoubtedly expect changes to your data centre. Firstly, data centres as we know them will continue to shrink as workloads continue to move to the cloud but largely due to higher density from hyperconvergence.
Secondly, the emergence of the aforementioned, edge data centres – these will appear more and more as workloads are moved away from the ‘centres of data’ to optimise performance and cost. Enterprise-owned data centres will likely come to consist of two types:
1. A blending of traditional centres and campus environments.
2. Mini data centres within IoT-enabled environments, such as large manufacturing centres.
Finally, application teams will continue to adopt more DevOps and agile practices. This will put more pressure on network teams to optimise around workload-driven operations.
The networking requirements of the future
As infrastructure changes with the rise of edge data centres, you’ll also see changes in what the requirements of our networks. This will become especially prevalent as you seek to balance the needs of edge data centres with the increasing use of cloud services and any on-prem footprint you still have. Below are a few considerations to keep in mind are data centres move towards the edge, in fact, these three requirements are applicable for any type of data centre be they private cloud, co-location, and edge.
1. Using automation streamline
With application teams continuing to adopt DevOps and other agile methodologies to speed up their software development, you can expect to see networking operations to become far more automated and streamlined to keep up.
Solutions needed to achieve this will need to take into account both current and future operating models as well as any existing investments. In order to simplify time-consuming yet common configuration tasks, turnkey automation could be considered. Whilst for teams with more developed DevOps, extending common automation platforms to network-related workflows will become an absolute must.
Furthermore, as DevOps and agile practices are utilised more and more in application teams, expect those practices to begin to influence how other organisations within IT function.
2. Getting ahead with analytics
Often one of the most time consuming and biggest drains on network operations resources is troubleshooting issues. Network visibility to incredibly important in shortening mean time to repair (MTTR), improving IT service delivery, and helping keep short-staffed teams focused on other more strategic matters.
Network-wide telemetry, captured and processed natively on each node, will be a massive leap forward once achieved. These analytics with built-in remediation will be important in providing better network stability and helping trouble-shooters proactively or even pre-empt user and/or business-impacting issues.
Predictive analytics will not just be major in dealing with issues before they arise, but also for gauging when there will be periods of high network usage – in the era of big data, cloud, streaming services and soon IoT, latency and connectivity have been the bane for many a data centre, thus being able to predict and ensure the network is right-sized to deliver the experience users demand will be vital. [MH1]
3. Maintaining 24-hour availability
As lockdown measures have been implemented and more of us are working at home, networks are under increasing strain as we all seek to use data sharing service. With this, the need for highly resilient networks will continue to grow – especially as even a minor hiccup can have huge ramifications for a business’ productivity.
Automating day-to-day operations will remove the possibility of human error, however, what networking teams will need is a far simpler and more reliable way of ensuring availability and delivering upgrades in a non-disruptive manor.
A cloud-native, microservice based operating system could be a great solution, ensuring added resiliency at a software level while also being able to utilise live software upgrades to eliminate maintenance windows will also be key.
As with previous decades, we are seeing a paramount shift in how we structure data centre networks with edge data centres being the latest continuation of this trend. Now, in all likelihood you’re probably already on your way toward this new era of data centre networking, however, we hope the considerations above provide you with some guidance and food for thought on how best your business can manage these changes. It might be early days for edge data centres, but it is already clear they are going to be playing a key role in shaping the future.