Despite Covid infectionsremaining at high levels in the UK, the end of free testing and the recent lifting of all Covid restrictions are markers of the nation steadily entering a post-pandemic period. Although this process is a gradual one, the realities of Britain without Covid-19 restrictions are already starting to be felt in many corners of the data center industry.
Ofgem's lifting of the energy price caponly applies to households - but it is symbolic of the rising cost of energy that is threatening data centers that are either unable to absorb the added cost or pass it on to the customer whilst remaining competitive. Cybersecurity risks are also continuing to mount, posing further challenges to the quality-of-service data center providers can offer.
To continue to effectively underpin the digital service of the UK, data center providers need to seek out innovative ways to meet the challenges that are already at the doorstep.
There is no escaping the soaring price of energy. Indeed, the cost of energy has been a strong contributing factor in forcing Sungard’s UK operations into administration and may yet prove to do the same to other data center providers.
The most expensive line item of the balance sheet for data centers has always been energy prices, therefore cost efficiencies must be made in this area, which ultimately means lowering the power usage effectiveness (PUE). While hyperscalers can do so through large-scale measures such as investing in wind farms purely to power their data centers, there are a number of measures for those lower down the scale.
A simple measure like blanking panels can be easily introduced to most data centers and provides an immediate way to optimize airflow throughout a rack and prevent the mixture of hot and cold air, reducing the energy requirements for a cooling system to meet its required temperatures. Identifying idle servers with intelligent power distribution units (PDU) will also serve to reduce overheads, with a detailed analysis of power consumption giving providers the information to only pay for what they use.
Improving energy efficiency goes beyond lowering costs. Data centers are competing against a range of alternatives, most notably public cloud. Due to changing customer priorities, energy efficiency has never been higher on the agenda. Providers that are able to demonstrate the effectiveness will secure and retain more customers in the marketplace we now operate in, especially in the context of data centers going into administration.
The rise in data breaches and ransomware attacks that we have seen since the start of the pandemic has been increased by the recent events in Ukraine. To help protect against growing threats, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) recently released new guidance on how data center providers can build a holistic strategy, encompassing both digital and physical security.
The new guidance is extensive and thorough. However, it was lacking substance in one of the most pivotal areas of security - culture. Individuals are the biggest security vulnerability in any organization. This is why Nvidia recently announced it was implementing a Zero Trust model for its data centers following its network breach in February and what makes reports of exploited temp staff at Google's data centers even more concerning.
Data centers are relatively low staffed organizations, but that is no reason to neglect to build a work culture that prioritizes and actively engages with all security measures. While data center operators understand the value of data as an asset far more so than other industries, there are many steps that can be taken to ensure employees actively engage with cybersecurity.
Gamification is one such measure. Aside from making cybersecurity measures a fun activity as opposed to a procedural bore, it also allows leaders to actively monitor adherence to cybersecurity and fosters a culture where individuals are not punished for the mistakes they make. As with any organizational culture shift, it is led from the top down, so it is paramount those at the executive level practice and endorse any gamification measures.
Conquering the challenges ahead
After a successful period of growth throughout the pandemic, overcoming the volatility of the market, the data center industry is already starting to face a series of new hurdles. The situation with Sungard illustrates the existential threat energy prices can pose to data center providers, while the manifesting of a cybersecurity threat will undermine both consumer confidence and the ability of a data center to deliver on its offering.
Those with adequate adaptability to best improve energy efficiency and the innovative thinking to match that of bad cyber actors will be best placed to meet the growing challenges.