As this dumpster fire of a year mercifully draws to a close, companies everywhere are surveying the damage the pandemic heaped upon their previously laid plans. Those that did not embrace cloud computing prior to the pandemic were forced to do so in rapid fashion. Many companies were forced to expand and upgrade their online collaboration tools such as Meet, Teams, Zoom, and the myriad others, as work from home ramped up.
As digital transformation efforts kicked into overdrive, a lot of good came from the world having to depend on technology. Air and noise pollution plummeted seemingly overnight. Wildlife that had long been expelled from urban areas reappeared and brightened our otherwise miserable existence. Who can forget the family of ducks walking casually down the middle of the Las Vegas strip? Technology gave rise to virtual happy hours as one of the few ways to stay connected. Sadly there are disillusioned groups that think the implementation of 5G caused COVID-19 and are doing their best to destroy the infrastructure that is associated with it.
Given that every pandemic day feels like four in pre-pandemic time, I only vaguely recall making my Top 9 Data Center and Tech Predictions in January. With this in mind, any failures in my predictions will quickly be blamed on COVID-19 and its unprecedented disruption. Did 5G change our lives? Did edge computing mature? Read on and find out how accurately I predicted the data center and tech trends of 2020.
1: Time to get back to the fundamentals of sustainability
This was as much a statement as it was a prediction. Supermicro had just released its second annual Data Centers and the Environment report based on an industry survey of over 5,000 IT professionals. Amongst other things, the results showed 86 percent of those surveyed didn't consider the environmental impact of their facilities as an important factor for their data centers.
In this age of climate change, combined with the energy intensity of the data center industry, this simply won’t fly. We need to do better, and hopefully those surveyed have re-evaluated the importance of the environmental impact of their data centers. I rate this an incomplete because Supermicro hasn’t published the study for 2020 yet, which would provide an apples to apples comparison. If the report is released soon, this will be revisited in my 2021 predictions.
2: 5G didn’t change our lives in 2019, and it won’t in 2020 either
My thinking with this prediction was that although there are a lot more 5G devices on the market now, this is all about the availability of millimeter wavelength 5G, not the low band 5G that is so prevalent. Low-band has a longer wavelength, which allows it to travel longer distances and travel through solid objects like walls more easily, but this comes at the expense of bandwidth. Millimeter wavelength has a much smaller wavelength (thus the name) and much higher bandwidth potential, but is highly affected by walls, trees, and even rain.
Having upgraded to 5G myself recently, I can confirm that the low band is a nice little upgrade, but it’s not the life changing promise of millimeter wavelength 5G. Unless you live in a dense urban area, which is where most millimeter installations exist, you won’t have access to this ultra-fast 5G. It is difficult to predict when, or even if, millimeter wavelength 5G will be available to the masses due to its physical limitations and the cost to overcome them.
3: The grand promise of IIoT won’t be realized in 2020
Before we get started on this one, let’s define IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). Very generally speaking, it’s the use of instruments, connected sensors and other devices on machinery and vehicles in fields such as transportation, energy, and other industrial sectors.
This prediction is tied to prediction number 2 and the availability of millimeter wavelength 5G. IIoT has amazing potential, but it takes bandwidth to enable real-time data gathering and analysis on an industrial scale. Millimeter wavelength 5G is not widely available, so that is a limiting factor on what we can achieve with IIoT. In a factory setting, IIoT is making great strides and will continue to do so. Without data to back up my theory, I couldn’t give myself an A, so I went with a solid B.
4: Edge computing will continue its upward trajectory, but will remain in its infancy in 2020
Edge computing absolutely continued its upward trajectory and even accelerated due to the pandemic. Everyone’s edge is different and that was complicated further by the pandemic giving rise to wide spread remote working. The market did mature in 2020 with startups Vapor IO and EdgeMicro gaining funding plus creating new products and partnerships. Business-to-business marketplaces such as edgevana are emerging as well.
While this is all good news, edge is very much tied to the maturity of 5G and the availability of millimeter wavelength 5G. Without this bandwidth, edge will be limited in its scale and spread. Although great strides were made in 2020, most experts would agree that edge is just scratching the surface of its potential.
5: Solutions to the talent gap will begin to emerge
The staffing challenges of the data center and tech industries are well documented. The Infrastructure Masons Women’s Committee, Veteran’s Committee, and LatinX Community groups continue to do good work in attracting diverse talent to the data center industry. With that said, much more work is necessary to mitigate the challenges caused by the impending “silver tsunami.” There hasn’t been a big enough dent made at this point to warrant a grade better than a C. Perhaps the disruption caused by the pandemic threw me off by a year and that more progress is made in 2021.
6: Another wave of industry consolidation is coming
The data center market has been a popular investment for quite some time, which has kept the merger and acquisition markets active. In this pandemic year, where other markets have been turned upside down, the data center industry and tech in general has proven to be a safe haven for investors. The good people at Datacenter Dynamics recently reported that 2020 was a record breaking year for M&A. I’ll take my A+ and be thankful that I am in this pandemic-resistant line of work.
7: Data sovereignty enters its painful prepubescent stage
After the announcement of Gaia-X in late 2019, I really thought a data sovereignty storm was brewing. Instead, it was relatively quiet on that front in 2020. It may be that COVID-19 punching us all in the face distracted the powers that be from pushing this agenda farther. Whatever the reason, data sovereignty took a back seat this year and my prediction was much ado about nothing.
8: Data gravity continues to hinder digital transformation
After seeing the opening keynote from DCD San Francisco, I felt really good about this prediction and still do. As datasets grow larger, they are harder to move. This data gravity works to keep the data in its current location, preventing it from moving to the cloud or some other more useful place. This prevents the data from being analyzed by more insightful tools such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other advanced analytics.
There is a force even more powerful than data gravity and it kept me from getting an A on this prediction. That force is the pandemic. It forced companies to embrace digital transformation or die. Many IT plans were accelerated in order to remain productive during 2020. Data gravity did hinder digital transformation, but the pandemic did enough to warrant a lower grade.
9: Market for liquid cooling remains nascent
As I wrote in January, my contention with this prediction doesn’t lie in liquid cooling being up to the challenge of higher densities. The technology is proven and ready for prime time. My prediction was simply that the implementation of the hardware that drives these densities is still limited. I saw nothing this year to challenge this thinking. Although many are making accommodations for liquid cooling, I saw no uptick in the actual installation of these systems. The day is coming where liquid cooling will be a necessity, but it will be a gradual process, not a wholesale change.
How did I do?
My grades proved to be a bumpy ride this year. The good ones were pretty good, but there was plenty in the opposite direction. Did I give myself the benefit of the doubt on some? Of course I did! We are in a pandemic, everyone deserves to be graded on a curve this year.
I am always interested in hearing how you think I did with my predictions. Please give me a shout in the comments section below, or on LinkedIn or Twitter. Also, keep an eye out for my 2021 predictions in January right here on Datacenter Dynamics.
If you are reading this, you too are likely to be one of the fortunate that are blessed to be in an industry that has thrived in, and partly due to, the pandemic. Remember that there are many not as fortunate as those of us in this industry and give generously while keeping them in your thoughts and prayers this holiday season.