Power Shift: What Will It Take to Get to 1000x Scale?
Gartner has predicted the death of the data center, yet digital infrastructure leaders are talking about 1000x scale. Both trends are true, they’re related, and their impacts are massive. In the digital infrastructure industry’s version of “location, location, location,” scale is all about “land, power, and capital” – with power increasingly becoming a constraint.
This is the first in a series of five blog posts reflecting the top-of-mind issues discussed during the Infrastructure Masons Advisory Council meeting on April 25, 2019 in Silicon Valley. The Advisory Council includes a combination of end user Infrastructure Masons who are responsible for some of the largest and most progressive infrastructure portfolios in the world and partner Infrastructure Masons who provide a complete view of the industry.
Gartner recently made a bold prediction. In its Top 10 Trends Impacting Infrastructure & Operations for 2019, the research firm predicts the death of the data center.
By 2025, Gartner says, 80% of enterprises will shut down their traditional data centers. The report goes on to say, “In fact, 10% of organizations already have. This data point does not necessarily mean everything is going to the cloud, but IT leaders do need to start thinking about where current and future workloads will live based on business reasons (e.g., customer engagement, GDPR regulations), not technology reasons.”
“By 2025, 80% of enterprises will shut down their traditional data centers, according to Gartner.” –Click to tweet
Enterprises leaving their on-premises data centers aren’t abandoning the digital world, they’re going to some other data center – whether it’s cloud or colocation, or all of the above.
“I was asked to debunk the statement that the cloud is here to replace the data center,” said one partner, referencing an old argument that apparently is still alive and well. “Cloud is a direct complement to the data center. The future is multi-cloud and hybrid cloud. Companies have understood they can’t put everything in the cloud, especially with edge.”
Whatever the model, it’s all a data center, so demand data centers continues to grow, as does their scale. Compounding the growth is demand from new applications like artificial intelligence, on-demand video streaming, gaming, and IoT. As just one example, one partner referenced Google’s new gaming platform, Stadia, and said, “It will turn the world upside down. Google will need to be in every city.”
1000x or bust
One end user recalled a previous Advisory Council meeting when members discussed the story of ‘way back in the day’ when hyperscalers realized that 10x wouldn’t be enough. They started to think 100x and what they would have do differently at 100x than at 10x. “And we keep hitting those bigger and bigger forecasts,” the end user said.
Echoing the sentiment, another end user said, “I recall when we did a 10x project and just as we completed it, 10x wasn’t enough. So I wrote a paper on 1000x scalability rules. Build to 1000x but execute on just the parts you need.” He continued, “There are challenges with linear scaling. There is no way the industry can linearly scale to support some of the models that exist today (e.g. AI, machine learning). There needs to be more openness and communication – which usually fosters better results.”
“There is no way the industry can linearly scale to support some of the models that exist today.” –Click to tweet
One partner committed to “debunking the misperception of the consolidation of the world.” He said, “Digital infrastructure is not getting smaller despite what some people are saying publicly. There’s a misperception that software operates on its own without platforms.” But just as you “can’t ship anywhere anytime without roads,” you can’t deliver software without digital infrastructure.
“Digital infrastructure is not getting smaller despite what some people are saying publicly.” –Click to tweet
Constraints on land, power, and capital
The implications of that huge rise in scale were hot topics of conversation during the Advisory Council meeting. In the digital infrastructure industry’s version of “location, location, location,” one partner said it’s all about “land, power, and capital.” All three are increasingly constrained, perhaps power most of all.
“When I think about thousands of megawatts in a portfolio or a site – this next order power scale – I expect that to fail in urban environments,” one partner said. The reason: “Urban environments around the world are tapping out of energy, which is the critical path item for developments.”
“In the digital infrastructure industry’s version of ‘location, location, location,’ it’s all about land, power, and capital.” –Click to tweet
The stress isn’t only on data centers – it affects the entire digital infrastructure supply chain. And that’s “getting to be a big problem,” said one partner.
“We’re already seeing major suppliers not able to fulfill the requirements we’re looking for – which leads to problems [for us] with lead times and costing. We try to balance the lumpiness of market demand from hyperscalers [our customers]. If it’s a challenge for us then it’s a problem for everybody.”
“Moving toward 1000x scale, the supply chain is getting to be a big problem.” –Click to tweet
New and emerging markets
Location also plays a role, of course. One partner pointed out that, “Demand for 120 MWs just turned up in the Middle East. Today there is 60 MW of capacity in total in all of the UAE. Going into new and emerging markets presents a whole series of problems.”
But those challenges are reflected in the U.S. as well. The partner added, “You can only put so many data centers sucking power from a hydroelectric plant in a particular location before it’s dead; then it’s another 10 years until there’s new capacity.”
Suggested solutions included working cooperatively with sustainability partners. One iMasons partner talked about the importance of advancing the ability to bring utilities and renewable power on the same bus – to truly leverage solar and wind power.
“You can only put so many data centers sucking power from a hydroelectric plant in a particular location before it’s dead; then it’s another 10 years until there’s new capacity.” –Click to tweet
Winning with power
Just as urban environments in developed markets, and developing markets in general, are the places where power is most constrained, they are increasingly essential components of a portfolio. As one partner explained it, “The irony is that data center developments are more necessary in urban environments.” That’s because, the partner said, data center developments fuel investment and innovation in other aspects of digital infrastructure, such as distribution networks.
So he or she who wins the power, wins the marketplace. As one partner put it, “If I was smarter, faster, and luckier about power, I could win in the marketplace.”
Upcoming posts in the April 2019 top-of-mind series: