Ashraf Yehia, Managing Director at Eaton Middle East identifies the key data trends for 2023.
With more countries revealing their sustainability visions for the future, and in the light of COP28 scheduled for Dubai, focus on sustainability initiatives is becoming crucial. The past few years have been more than just disruptive for data centres. Organisations couldn’t predict the severity of the impact the ongoing disruption to the geopolitical landscape would have – not least that we’d be facing a severe energy crisis. Therefore, there lies a higher impetus for balancing growth in digitalization while introducing sustainable practices.
The region has witnessed an increase in data centre initiatives, with the GCC data centre market currently estimated at more than US$ 1.3 billion and expected to reach US$ 5.23 billion by 2028 – with major data centres in Saudi Arabia and UAE. And, it brings a sharper focus on the importance of addressing energy issues, as well as highlighting new challenges. It’s not all doom and gloom, though – ongoing digitalisation, for example, represents new opportunities for the sector.
Here, then, are some of the developments that we can expect to see in the data centre sector during 2023 and beyond.
While the argument for a renewable generation strategy has always been around sustainability and the environment, today we need in-region renewables to protect supplies for European countries primarily for reasons of energy security and cost, and companies such as Microsoft are taking a step in this direction. Sustainability driven initiatives help grid operators provide uninterrupted power should renewable sources such as wind, sun, and sea be insufficient to meet demand.
This need to accelerate the generation of renewable energy is, effectively, an extension of last year’s outlook. But it’s much more acute now. It should serve as a wake-up call to governments across EMEA that they can no longer rely on traditional energy sources.
Broken supply chains
COVID-19 had a tremendous impact on global supply chains across many sectors. However, once the pandemic receded, businesses everywhere were lulled into something of a false sense of security, believing they’d been through the worst.
No-one was expecting a second body blow, a geopolitical crisis that’s proven to be even more disruptive to some supply chains – particularly the semiconductors and base metals vital to data centre construction – than COVID. As a high growth market, the data centre industry is highly sensitive to supply chain disruption, especially at a time when it’s looking to scale up.
The industry as a whole is still struggling with supply chain disruption, and the nature of the current geopolitical landscape shows us that it isn’t stopping anytime soon
Tackling growing complexity
The requirement for digital growth has reached an unprecedented level. Every possible avenue has been explored to fulfil that need in a simpler and more cost-effective way, , and in the shortest possible time.
However, this can be contradictory to the nature of many highly complex, mission-critical environments. A data centre is home to a wealth of different technologies – from HVAC systems to mechanical and structural engineering, IT, and computers. The challenge is trying to accelerate such highly complex, interdependent types of environments to maintain the current trends for digitalisation.
To this end, data centre designers, operators, and vendors are fashioning systems that will reduce this complexity while respecting an application’s mission-critical nature. The industrialisation, or modulisation, of data centres, where prefabricated, pre-engineered, and pre-integrated units, are delivered to site, is one way of making the design and construction of a data centre less complex while ensuring faster time-to-market.
Moving beyond traditional clusters
Until now, London, Dublin, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Paris have been the traditional data centre clusters, either because companies are headquartered in these cities, or because they’re natural economic clusters with a wealth of telecom connectivity and ideal client profiles.
To provide quality of service and to be in closer proximity to centres of population and economic activity, it’s becoming more favourable to build data centres in the secondary cities of the main economic nations and in the capitals of smaller economic nations. Competition amongst the data centre providers is strong, so many of these Tier II cities and nations provide for growth for existing operators or low point of entry for new operators. For this reason, you will see increased activity in cities like Dubai, Warsaw, Vienna, Istanbul, Nairobi, and Lagos.
But this expansion is not without its challenges. Considerations around the availability of appropriate sites, power, and engineering labour all add complexity to an organisation’s overall operations, for instance. And many of those countries may not have a lot of experience or personnel to help with the design, construction, and operation of a new data centre.
As new markets continue to open up, many operators are trying to achieve first-mover advantage in developing secondary markets. In fact, many jurisdictions welcome data centre operators with open arms, with some even offering incentives and subsidies to entice them.
One thing this year has proved is that we can’t be certain about anything. The current geopolitical system have left the sector facing a series of unprecedented challenges. But growth opportunities exist. Trends would indicate that more forward-looking operators will be able to weather the storm, to face whatever the future holds.