Magazine Button
How seeing double will help operational alignment

How seeing double will help operational alignment

Digital TransformationIndustry ExpertOperations & Systems

Dave King, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Cadence, tells us how investing in the right technologies is crucial for data centres to overcome unprecedented demand among an expanding talent shortage and carbon transparency concerns – and why Digital Twins may be an answer.

Data centre demand is exploding. In fact, according to JLL, 2023 saw the largest second quarter on record for data centre demand in Europe. As facilities prepare to deliver on this in 2024, they’ll embrace technologies such as Digital Twins, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Large Language Models (LLMs), Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to support them. At the same time, they’ll contend with environmental, social and governance (ESG) and digital skills challenges. The first step in managing these difficulties and embracing the technological opportunities is understanding the landscape. With this in mind, let’s look at what next year has in store for the data centre industry.

Digital Twin implementation getting more sophisticated

Data centres are already struggling to meet the capacity demands of digital proliferation. This challenge will only intensify in 2024 as complex technologies such as AI become increasingly commonplace. As facility operators wrestle to do more with less, virtual replicas of physical data centres – digital twins – will become a prominent solution. It will empower operators to achieve maximum capacity out of their existing architecture. Consequently, this will have the positive knock-on effect of delaying the need for new data centres, which come at a great financial and environmental expense – not only to the business involved, but also to the planet.

To realise these benefits, operators must understand that Digital Twins aren’t a technology that you can just plug in and play. Their value lies in their ability to precisely mirror the operational activity of their physical counterpart. They need to have seamless access to good-quality data and require strong internal processes, such as having a centralised view. Thankfully, recognition of this is rising, and next year, more of the market will latch on to the concept that the success of Digital Twins relies on strong workflows. As a result, we’ll see successful implementation cases significantly increase and Digital Twin technology become a common standard for data centre efficiency in the long term.

LLMs integrating with Digital Twins

Since the release of ChatGPT, companies have been scrambling to implement some form of LLMs into various technological solutions. This is now creeping into the Digital Twin space, whether it’s in healthcare, finance, or data centres. Now, with the exponential growth of digital twins – a market set to reach US$11.12 billion by 2030 – more people will have access to and want to use them. This is why we’re likely to see a greater desire to incorporate LLMs into Digital Twin technology, to make them an even more crucial element of workplace decision-making.

LLMs enable operators to ask questions of Digital Twins in a natural way. This is a crucial development as workforces grapple with time constraints, productivity expectations and an increase in the number of people using the technology who are less familiar with it. Companies will, however, need to bear in mind the maturity of LLMs and what’s realistically achievable. Employees won’t be able to just ask any question tomorrow and expect a valid response. Reaching this outcome will take time, particularly in more complex environments like data centres.

The role of AI in data centres stabilising

Data centres have long been applying AI to various processes, such as ensuring proper temperatures are maintained. However, in 2023, Generative AI somewhat supercharged companies’ interest in AI and automation, surprising many with its sophistication. That said, we’re likely to see a slight pushback in 2024, with companies being more selective with the AI opportunities that they pursue.

AI will continue to be used in data centres to help solve smaller problems it has been proven effective at. These include tasks like filling manual labour gaps, advising on energy management, or automating capacity management. However, AI will not yet be considered the primary solution when it comes to addressing large, enterprise-changing challenges – such as running data centres – instead of human operators in light of current skills gaps. As a result, we’re likely to see investment in the areas of AI that come with more immediate small-scale gains. That doesn’t mean that the industries’ innovators won’t be looking to pursue the benefits of AI on a larger scale.

Carbon emissions becoming a corporate issue

Technology growth is showing no signs of stopping and it’s driving data centre demand up further. For instance, the hyperscale market is expected to grow 20% from 2021 to 2026. That means facilities are bracing themselves to deliver more capacity and faster.

To meet these requirements, operators will need to invest in new technology. However, as they do so, they will need to balance the need for more technology with new ESG regulations coming into force next year. For example, the European Union’s Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) and Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD)will require larger enterprises to disclose their carbon usage from both a direct and indirect standpoint. This means if, for example, a server is bought, the carbon associated with its construction, transportation, maintenance, deconstruction and such, all need to be accounted for.

This is a massive change in the industry because companies can no longer shift the greenhouse emissions downstream. Commonly, companies devolved their responsibilities for ESG as the data was ‘in the cloud’. That can no longer happen. The pressure will be on corporate departments to shift their mindsets and invest in more thorough energy reporting techniques, so they can understand and report on their true carbon footprint. For instance, we’ll see data centres doing much deeper analysis of metrics to determine what the accurate Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and real efficiencies of their facilities are.

Plugging the skills gap

The data centre sector is grappling with a talent shortage. This is being driven by two connecting factors: there’s an increasing use of innovative technologies across data centres and there’s a lack of new talent entering the sector.

A large proportion of the data centre workforce is nearing retirement age. There are not enough young people being attracted to a career in the sector for the skills of the older demographic to be transferred to. At the same time, more complex technologies are being used that require specific skills, which in turn impacts a data centre’s ability to deliver capacity and efficiency. In response to this issue, we’ll see facility operators looking to mitigate this challenge by using a combination of Digital Twins, AR and VR.

A Digital Twin replicates the physical data centre environment in the virtual realm. This enables available staff to make risk-free changes to the model before implementing them in the real environment. For instance, a Digital Twin can be used to simulate how the data centre would respond to a new type of cooling technology. Meanwhile, VR headsets or AR-enabled glasses can show the real data centre environment overlayed with insightful digital information, linking the physical to the digital world. 

Links between a real physical device and digital information, such as its user manual, live monitoring data, or even simulation results, could enable site staff with all the information required to make decisions at their fingertips in the real world. These pioneering technologies will play a fundamental role in upskilling staff and enabling a smaller number of highly skilled operators to direct engineers on the floor, and in so doing, close the talent gap.

Fostering growth

From a skills, environmental and capacity perspective, the new year will see a continuation of challenges for the data centre industry. Investing in the right technologies will be vital to equipping facilities with the tools necessary to not only overcome these hurdles but also to thrive. Digital Twins will play the star role in this process in 2024 – they will nurture endless amounts of innovation that will support facilities in tackling both known and unknown future challenges and identifying untapped opportunities.

Click below to share this article

Browse our latest issue

Intelligent Data Centres

View Magazine Archive