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Data Center Industry Seeks Smaller, Flexible Spaces

As individual computers and electronic devices become more powerful, the demands on data centers are changing. While data centers are still critical, centers are becoming smaller and more spread out geographically thanks to higher-powered devices that can now process on the edge.

Processing on the edge, also called edge computing, refers to more data being processed closer to where it is created on devices that are becoming more and more powerful. This allows businesses and organizations to analyze data more quickly, rather than waiting for it to transfer back and forth to a data processing center.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center campus uses both on-site and off-site data centers. The research facility uses innovative cooling systems that take advantage of the Pacific Northwest's cool outside air.

This evolving phenomena is due in part to a lower tolerance of latency from both consumers and companies and the increase of data itself, Intel Technical Program Manager Amith Pulla said. Pulla will be part of a panel at Bisnow’s DICE Northwest event March 26.

“For example, workers have a tablet on which they are collecting a lot of data,” Pulla said. “Previously, all that data would be sent to a data center miles away to be processed. Now, the processing is taking place on the tablet itself and only sending the required insights to the data center.”

Restaurants like Applebee's of Chick-fil-A only need to send data that is already processed to the data center, rather than all of it, he said. This trend is changing the space requirement for data centers. Now, data centers don’t need as much space, but they do need to be flexible.

With data center size requirements changing rapidly, buildings that include reconfigurable modules will be more in demand. While the industry's size demands are currently increasing, that could all change in a few years. Companies are looking for buildings that can be easily transformed from a large space to a small one and then back again if the demand warrants it.

The space inside the building needs to be able to change, he said.

Intel's Amith Pulla will be a panelist at the upcoming DICE Northwest event.

The anticipated game-changing rollout of the 5G network is behind this trend, he said. This innovation will allow for wireless transfer speeds to be as fast as that of the fiber-like home internet. Verizon and AT&T both launched the technology in late 2018, but on a limited basis. Experts expect this technology to take hold in 2022.

The 5G wireless network will allow devices to talk to each other quickly and more efficiently. Since so much data will be processed on the edge, less will be sent to the data centers.

“It is the key enabler of the 5G last-mile data center,” Pulla said. “That will help change the quality of how we do data processing.”

Even though the needs of the data centers are changing, it is not going away, he said.

“The volume of the data is increasing,” he said.

Therefore, the data center will still be the viable central point where all the data will be processed and the edge processing will be the more like a triage center. This will require smaller, more flexible data center spaces that come with more unique challenges, including how to heat and cool the smaller spaces.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's Jim Rudd will share thoughts on the new needs of data centers at the DICE Northwest event.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Director of Networking Engineering - Center IT Jim Rudd deals with such challenges in the facility’s on-site data center.

“You need more power in each rack,” said Rudd, who will also be a panelist at the DICE Northwest event. “You can get more into the same space, but need more cooling and power.”

There is also an issue of the floor structure and whether or not it can hold the weight of the equipment.

Thanks to Seattle’s typically cool air, Fred Hutch has been able to be innovative in its cooling system by often using fresh air for cooling. Here in the Pacific Northwest, power costs remain relatively low compared to other parts of the country.

Still, the region is at risk for large earthquakes and tsunamis, so the research center has to have a backup center somewhere else. Like many companies, the center backs up much information to the cloud. Though that initially seemed like it would be a cost-saver, it hasn’t really turned out that way, Rudd said.

“We are definitely going to the cloud where we can,” he said.

It is important to make sure that the data center for the cloud storage is in another region that would not be impacted by a local disaster, he said.

Fred Hutch’s data centers were all in place by 2011, he said. The eight-building, 3,500-employee research facility requires heavy use of the internet and connectivity. Because of these factors, the on-premise data center works for Fred Hutch. Iif this center were to start today, Rudd believes it would be more cost-efficient to use an off-site data center.

Find out more about how data centers are evolving at the DICE Northwest event March 26 at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Seattle.