Security and supply chain gain attention from datacenters

data center in server room with server racks

June 28, 2023

During Data Center World, AFCOM’s annual conference that brings together data center and IT professionals, there were presentations, panel discussions and case study demonstrations. In addition, AFCOM presented its latest report with several highlights of the current datacenter landscape, including topics that have gained increased attention, such as physical security and datacenter supply chain.

Overall, it was clear that the data centre industry is experiencing rapid growth – by 2023, the sector is expected to register 7.4 GW online compared to 4.9 GW last year, according to recent data from Cushman & Wakefield confirmed by the AFCOM report. In addition, there is significant movement towards secondary and emerging markets, with hyperscale tenants and colocation providers evaluating and announcing new projects around the world. However, energy availability is increasingly constrained and energy costs are rising.

For the first time ever, security is at the top of data center leaders’ concerns. Physical and/or logical security topped the list, with 53% of respondents saying they have already implemented some type of security plan. For the seventh consecutive year, respondents cite ransomware (52%) as the top threat, followed by loss of personally identifiable data (PII, 39%) and external human threats (39%). Two specific threats saw the most significant increase: physical threats against data centers and DDoS attacks.

In addition, supply chain is one of the hottest topics in conversations leaders and other data center professionals. The AFCOM report pointed out that 94% of respondents have had at least some issue to overcome associated with supply chain, and that more than half report some pressure around supply (59%).

According to the survey, these figures indicate a huge leap from the previous year. Almost half of the respondents have experienced some downtime in their environment due to a lack of suitable parts. AFCOM warns of the need to prepare and identify the best partners and employ best practices in terms of supplies to face challenging scenarios.

And where are supply constraints being felt most? Respondents cited IT equipment (57%), power systems (51%), cabinets (42%), cooling systems (37%) and constriction materials as the top five supply constraints.

When talking about expenses in general, the main contributors to the increase in OpEx expenses are associated with services for equipment and personnel, followed by energy. In relation to CapEx, the causes of the increases have to do with problems in the supply chain, works in existing facilities, updating IT environments and investment in new facilities.

One fact highlighted by AFCOM is that the culprit of the CapEx increase in the previous year was infrastructure investments in existing facilities, while today the increase is due to challenges in the supply chain. Another notable increase revolves around service costs for equipment. In the previous year, this figure was close to 47%, while today it is around 79%. One can assume that this is also due, in part, to supply chain issues.

Density, cooling, ESG and more

Not surprisingly, the energy density of racks continues to evolve. Last year, the estimated average density was 7kW in primary datacenters. By 2023, that number jumped to 8.5kW, with 60% of respondents saying density will continue to change more significantly. The AFCOM report reminds that means to generate higher levels of energy density are a challenge. Many are trying to do much more with less space, but that translates into investments in better cooling technologies, power systems and capacity.

Specifically in the cooling arena, the AFCOM report highlights that less than half of respondents (46%) report that their current solutions meet all their requirements, but 35% point out that they are losing cooling capacity and need to adjust. Another 18% say they are actively looking for new systems. For AFCOM, this data was somewhat revealing, as we are seeing an industry struggling to adapt cooling capacity as the sector grows.

In some cases, liquid cooling is used to try to overcome these challenges – 38% of respondents have adopted this type of cooling and almost half of datacenter vendors (43%) have seen liquid cooling at their customers’ sites. In total, 60% of respondents say they already use liquid cooling or plan to deploy it within 12 to 24 months. AFCOM highlights some interesting robotics solutions, new liquid cooling methods or even hybrid deployments in datacenters and ventures to say that liquid cooling will continue to be a hot topic.

One piece of good news is that renewable energy is being adopted. Only 14% of respondents say they do not have a renewable energy plan, while the remaining 86% are actively implementing or planning to implement this energy category. Respondents report that solar (55%), wind (36%) and hydro (27%) are the most favored sources, while 10% indicate that they are seeing some movement around nuclear technologies, suggesting that we may start to see small modular reactors (SMRs) powering datacenters.

In addition to operating with renewable energy, datacenter leaders are also making water conservation efforts. Most respondents believe water efficiency continues to gain importance (81%) and are considering (83%) implementing solutions such as cooling systems that work with water (38%), effluent recycling (38%), water treatment with partners (36%), pipeline or civil engineering projects (20%), rainwater harvesting (11%).

More broadly, we see that ESG importance is growing within datacenters, including inclusion, equality, and diversity initiatives. The majority of respondents (69%) say ESG is essential for organizations and key stakeholders, with 22% reporting it is a critical theme in their future strategies.

On the storage front, the AFCOM report describes that the volume of data generated by datacenters is growing, and so is storage capacity – 43% of respondents have a local storage capacity of 1PB or more; the same share report a remote storage capacity of 1PB or more. To meet this growing demand for data, many datacenter professionals are adopting flash memory only – 38% with high performance in mind and 31% using it for general purposes.

Digital twins, data modelling and Virtual Reality are increasingly gaining the attention of datacenter professionals – 38% of respondents say they have already deployed or intend to deploy a Virtual Reality, or Augmented Reality, solution.