After reflecting on the accuracy of my predictions for 2019, it’s time to wade into the unknown of 2020 and unveil the eggnog-inspired divinations that came to me over the holiday season. Read on to see my predictions on edge, IoT, 5G, and other tech inspired geekery.

1: Time to get back to the fundamentals of sustainability

Data centers are going backwards: getting cooler, not warmer! – Thinkstock

This is a prediction that we all need to work on together to make happen. Given all of the headlines about the massive amounts of renewable energy being implemented around the world to power data centers, many incorrectly assumed that the basic blocking and tackling of sustainability was happening in the background.

In December, Supermicro released its second annual Data Centers and the Environment report based on an industry survey of over 5,000 IT professionals. The results are disturbing to say the least. 86 percent of those surveyed don't consider the environmental impact of their facilities as an important factor for their data centers. Less than 15 percent report that energy efficiency, corporate social responsibility, or environmental impact were key considerations for their facilities.

One of the simplest things you can do in a data center to improve energy efficiency, turn up the thermostat, has reversed course. The percentage of respondents that keep their inlet air temperatures at or below 21°C (69.8°F) increased from 12 percent in 2018 to 17 percent in 2019. Those that keep inlet air temperatures between 21°C and 24°C (75.2°F) rose from 43 percent to 51 percent. Operation in all other higher temperature ranges decreased.

The cautionary warnings about legacy equipment not being able to operate at higher temperatures become less relevant as time goes on. I wrote about this in 2013 and again in 2014, so this isn’t new or rocket science for crying out loud! Due to the efforts of Greenpeace, whether you approve of their methods or not, the largest players in the industry are transparent about their energy efficiency and they are doing quite well. That puts the onus squarely on the enterprise.

Perhaps this highlights why most enterprises shouldn’t own and operate their own data centers. Enterprises are also more susceptible to FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). In any case, change is necessary and it is incumbent on each of us to do our part.

2: 5G didn’t change our lives in 2019, and it won’t in 2020 either

Last year, I predicted that 5G will change our lives, but not in 2019. Well, it won’t in 2020 either. Yes, there are far more 5G enabled mobile devices on the market, so that is improvement. To provide context, let’s first make the distinction between low-band and millimeter wavelength. 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.

With this in mind, low-band 5G will be a nice little upgrade. Millimeter wavelength is the life changing 5G we have all been hearing about. Given the technological limitations, critics believe that it will never scale beyond dense urban areas. To roll-out millimeter wavelength in a serious way, it will take a monumental number of installations, which in turn will take time and a lot of money. Unfortunately, the near-term realities of 5G also impact my next two predictions.

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. IIoT obviously extends beyond an Internet-connected refrigerator or light bulb.

IIoT has amazing potential, but it takes bandwidth to enable real-time data gathering and analysis on an industrial scale. We can’t run fiber to every single little sensor, so herein lies the tie to 5G. Lack of robust 5G won’t impact certain applications like factories, but it will impact more widely distributed and remote applications. Without widespread millimeter wavelength 5G, we are just scratching the surface of what IIoT can deliver.

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The Edge of the Future

A special supplement tackling the fundamental questions surrounding Edge computing. Hear from industry experts, and from DCD's readers, to learn where the Edge will live.

4: Edge computing will continue its upward trajectory, but will remain in its infancy in 2020

Edge computing has gone from buzzword to reality, yet it’s still just beginning to crawl in terms of maturity. Everyone’s edge is different, which means widespread installations of varying sizes and shapes. Edge is also very much tied to the success and maturity of 5G and IoT. As each matures, the effectiveness of the other two will increase. That is going to take some time, which will prevent edge from bearing substantial fruit in 2020.

5: Solutions to the talent gap will begin to emerge

The staffing challenges of the data center and tech industries are well documented. While those issues aren’t going to go away anytime soon with the impending ‘silver tsunami’, there are groups that are working on them and I believe their efforts will begin to bear fruit this year.

One such group is the Infrastructure Masons, an industry association with multiple committees focused on diversifying the data center community. The Infrastructure Masons Women Committee is focused on addressing “the talent shortage and expanding the qualified applicant pool and avoid unconscious bias by co-publishing a Hiring Managers Toolkit.” The Infrastructure Masons Employ Military Veterans Committee focuses on attracting “Military Veterans to pursue a career in this industry.” Finally, the Infrastructure Masons LatinX Community’s goal is “to create a collaborative ecosystem within the Hispanic community to drive digital infrastructure awareness.”

The Infrastructure Masons are but one of many groups tackling these issues and progress should begin to emerge this year.

6: Another wave of industry consolidation is coming

There has been substantial industry consolidation over the past few years, but this seems to have attracted even more money into the sector. Some of these new investors have purchased existing data center assets and formed new players in the colocation market. There is the possibility that some of these investors are in it for the long haul, but that is typically more the exception than the norm. Logic would dictate that many of these companies are being created with the intent of selling them off at a profit as quickly as possible. This new wave of consolidation will gain momentum this year.

7: Data sovereignty enters its painful prepubescent stage

In late October of 2019, Germany's Economic Minister Peter Altmaier announced a European cloud initiative called Gaia-X. He then promptly fell off of the stage, which is appropriate given how messy this thing is going to be. The dust hasn’t even settled from GDPR and they have to throw another layer of complexity into the ring?

It’s been interpreted as a direct competitor to US cloud providers by some and a set of standards and rules by others. Depending on where this lands, it has the potential to further complicate where data is stored at the very least. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any stranger, I read that France backs the initiative as well. When was the last time Germany and France agreed on anything? In any case, 2020 looks to be an interesting year for data sovereignty.

8: Data gravity continues to hinder digital transformation

In 2019, I predicted that digital transformation would turn IT into a profit center. Unfortunately, I was a bit premature and/or optimistic in my prediction of alignment between business and IT. In hindsight, FUD was not the only factor at play. I believe data gravity, the idea that data and applications are attracted to each other, also played a part.

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. This will likely be a slow evolution, thus data gravity will continue to hinder digital transformation again this year.

9: Market for liquid cooling remains nascent

After years of hype, power densities finally rose substantially in 2019. This was driven in large part by new chip sets aimed at AI. The newest hardware is driving rack densities as high as 60 kW. The limits of air cooling are thought to be in the 40-60 kW/rack range. Simple math would indicate that something has to change.

My contention with this prediction doesn’t lie in liquid cooling being up to the challenge. The technologies, whether total immersion cooling or liquid to the chip, are proven and ready for prime time. My prediction is simply that the implementation of the hardware that drives these densities is still limited. As AI grows in adoption, it will drive densities even higher and liquid cooling will be more widespread. For now, liquid cooling will be limited to certain areas of the data center where these AI compute clusters reside.

Time will tell…

There you have it, my attempt at predicting the future of the ever-changing data center and tech world. Are these the bold predictions DCD CEO George Rockett was looking for? Why couldn’t I come up with an even 10 predictions? Perhaps the non-stop rain on my trip to Hawaii washed away the last one. In any case, I am always interested in hearing your thoughts on my predictions, so please share your feedback below, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter.