Data Center 2020: Jobs, Connectivity, and Hyperscale – Key Updates from the Latest AFCOM Report20 min read

by | Oct 14, 2020 | Blog

On January 14th of this year, support for Windows 7 ended as the end of life came for this product. Now the important question is, how many of you can actually remember that far back? In a year that’s felt like an entire decade, quite a bit has happened.

Earlier in the year, we released the AFCOM State of the Data Center report. This was back in late February and early March. Never did we imagine that we’d need to ask the same questions, and some new ones, because of the vast amount of change in our industry. But, that’s precisely what we at AFCOM did. And, we received even more responses and new insights into a pandemic-era data center world. These findings were released in early September and capture several months of recent trends in our industry.

Here’s are my top 5 most exciting finds.

1. Data centers and infrastructure are as critical as ever. We compared the numbers from the previous report with the updated metrics. We found that the total number of data centers within the next 12 months jumped 5% points. We also saw that the most significant jump came from people looking to build 5-9 new locations. The total number of data centers to be renovated or expanded jumped by about 4% points. This indicates growth above what we saw at the beginning of the year. Even a recent article from Data Center Frontier shows growth as the hyperscale market continues to lift the industry. The big takeaway here is that our ecosystems are critical. The enterprise is quickly re-thinking if they want to be in the ‘data center’ business or if they should be focusing on what they’re good at. Healthcare, for example, saw a massive hit. Those that enabled digital capabilities faired better than the traditional ‘pen and pad’ healthcare practices. Further, it’s this industry that’s quickly looking to scale away from operating their systems and partnering with colocation or hyperscale providers—something to consider.

2. We ALL saw increases in network traffic and communication. I’m sure you’re not surprised here, but a majority of respondents (70%) report noticing an increase in network traffic within their infrastructures since the pandemic hit. Over a third (36%) report an increase of more than 40%. One large healthcare provider CIO shared with me that, “We went from below a hundred connections to thousands per day. The growth in connectivity was massive. But, we were just fine as we partnered with a great hyperscale provider. We were able to keep running smoothly, and we continued to support critical and life-saving services.” Organizations had to react to this increase in traffic. Some were better prepared than others.

We learned early on that to better support this increased traffic, Netflix and Amazon Prime agreed to a European Union request that streaming services switch from high definition to standard to reduce the strain on the internet, as previously reported by CNN and the Guardian. Apple did the same with Apple TV+, as noted earlier by 9to5Mac, as did Google-owned YouTube.

To everyone who’s reading this, please make sure you have the network architecture, the bandwidth, and proper solutions to support remote connections and users. We’ll touch on remote work, but as Dr. Julie Albright, author of ‘Left to their own Devices’ recently mentioned in a post, “the untethered society is unfolding right before our eyes.”

3. There’s no stopping cloud. Our previous report saw that three in four respondents (72%) report noticing a trend for organizations to move away from the public cloud. How has that changed? Only 8% experienced any cloud migration or cloud project slowdowns. For many in the industry, the cloud was a saving factor that allowed organizations to be more agile. Multi-experience and multi-cloud ecosystems are a great way to create resiliency alongside super flexible services for all sorts of users.

4. There’s a big acceleration around automation. In another jump from the previous report, almost three in four respondents (70%) report using data center automation and control, most commonly for smaller tasks (37%). Nearly one in five (18%) uses these technologies for multi-tenancy and user load balancing purposes. It’s important to note that these technologies are not here to replace people. Instead, a new focus is around human-centric technologies that aim to augment peoples’ skills and not necessarily replace them. Using data and automation is a great way to optimize efficiency, remove issues around smaller tasks, and even improve security. Last year, 85% of breaches that happened were against systems where a patch was available. Many automation tools help with patching things to ensure you don’t have a lost piece of hardware running on old software or firmware. Within the data center, DCIM solutions are also deeply integrating with ITSM/ITOM solutions to create more agility and automation.

5. Jobs, remote work, and hiring were impacted, but maybe not how you’d think. I spoke with numerous people in my industry and was pleasantly surprised that the absolute vast majority remained employed. Yes, some experienced furloughs, and there were some layoffs. The report indicates that about 85% of respondents either only experienced furloughs (12%) or saw no change at all (73%). Diving deeper, only 6% of respondents indicated that they’re experiencing layoffs; 9% said it was a mixture of furloughs and layoffs.

But mainly, there was still room to grow and expand. The latest AFCOM report showed us that over a third of respondents (38%) plan to increase investment in hiring data center personnel within the next three years. Almost half (45%) plan to increase investments in training data center personnel.

When it comes to the workplace itself, the vast majority of respondents (85%) report their companies have created new rules and protocols for the safety of staff and/or customers due to the pandemic, including 43% who say a total overhaul of rules and protocols. I’m sure that’s not entirely surprising.

On a final and significant note, we turn to remote working. As I’m sure you’ve seen, there have been some high-profile companies advocating for remote work and making that their new normal. This list includes REI, Twitter, Reddit, Microsoft, Facebook, and several others. Our report indicated more than half of those with changes (54%) believe their workforce’s current makeup will become permanent. And, of the nearly 20% that say they weren’t sure, maybe falling into that remote work category as well. This may well be a trend that’s here to stay. How ready is your organization to facilitate and support this level of remote work?

As you take this all in, remember that although we’re all in this sea of craziness together, our boats might be a bit different. I encourage everyone reading this to practice kindness and empathy. You never know the condition of someone else’s boat.

The other significant point of feedback that I received was around the term ‘innovation.’ First, it’s no longer just a cool and fun marketing word. Instead, today’s business climate has evolved this term to mean who has the capabilities to survive and who might not. That is, if you actually took the word ‘innovation’ to heart, you might be dealing with all of this more smoothly.

This is a moment of retrospection as you look at your partners, business, and technology platforms. No one knows what the next ‘big one’ will be. But you need to ask yourself: How ready am I to handle another pandemic? Or whatever else might come along?

To innovate means to create capabilities for people and business. This can be as simple as ensuring you have enough operating space for new remote connections or as big as an entire cloud or data center migration. The point is that it’s all very contextual. Take the time to understand that technology is critical for survival in uncertain times. Further, this technology and the solutions around it can help people thrive during very stressful times. We’re less than three months away from 2021. What’s your ‘innovation’ strategy? How will you support your people? Whichever direction you go, know that you have good partners you can turn to whenever you face unknowns.

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Bill Kleyman

Bill Kleyman

Executive Vice President of Digital Solutions, Switch | Industry Analyst | Board Advisory Member | Writer/Blogger/Speaker | Executive | Millennial | Techie

Bill Kleyman brings more than 15 years of experience to his role as Executive Vice President of Digital Solutions at Switch. Using the latest innovations, such as AI, machine learning, data center design, DevOps, cloud and advanced technologies, Mr. Kleyman delivers solutions to customers that help them achieve their business goals and remain competitive in their market. An active member in the technology industry, he was ranked #16 globally in the Onalytica study that reviewed the top 100 most influential individuals in the cloud landscape; and #4 in another Onalytica study that reviewed the industry’s top Data Security Experts.

Mr. Kleyman enjoys writing, blogging and educating colleagues about everything related to technology. His published and referenced work can be found on WindowsITPro, Data Center Knowledge, InformationWeek, NetworkComputing, AFCOM, TechTarget, DarkReading, Forbes, CBS Interactive, Slashdot and more.

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