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Why the Middle East and Africa are at the forefront of data centre transformation

Why the Middle East and Africa are at the forefront of data centre transformation

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As the data centre industry rapidly evolves, we must consider the driving factors behind the change in order to continue at pace. Ehab Kanary, Vice President of Enterprise Infrastructure for the Middle East and Africa at CommScope, considers some of the hallmarks for data centre change this year.

End-user spending on global data centre infrastructure is projected to reach US$200 billion in 2021, according to Gartner. In the Middle East, the data centre market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 3% in the next five years, driven by the regional initiatives such as Saudi Vision 2030, Dubai Vision 2021 and New Kuwait Vision 2035. Case in point – a key Saudi player recently announced the launch of three mega data centres with US$267 million investment. 

2021 will see the accelerated deployment of new and evolving technologies in the industry and key global trends influencing these deployments include the growing demand for higher-performance networks, increased management efficiency and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social distancing restrictions and a significant drop in on-site retail shopping have prompted a substantial increase in online sales and significantly impacted data centres. Let’s take a closer look at these trends below.

Cloud migration will accelerate

In the absence of ‘business as usual’, enterprises and small businesses are moving to the cloud and this trend will only accelerate no matter what happens with the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies that were eyeing an eventual migration are now quickly moving to adopt a cloud-based paradigm for their businesses. Indeed, many companies that told workers to stay home have adopted remote working policies that rely on cloud-based applications, while retailers are following the lead of industry giants like Amazon and Noon in shifting sales tools to the cloud. In fact, these online retailers see growth thanks to the pandemic.

Another cloud-related trend we’ve observed is the accelerated adoption of private cloud infrastructure. Not too long ago, the prevailing wisdom was that everything would ultimately move to the public cloud. However, many companies have realised that they need to keep financial, healthcare and other sensitive information in private clouds. Some applications simply can’t be converted to the public cloud, while companies that maintain large data centres find private clouds less expensive than public clouds.

That said, we’re also seeing most enterprises adopting hybrid mixes of public and private clouds for their applications and data as a standard form of practice.

AI adoption will increase

Incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications has been an ongoing trend for data centres and we see no sign of this slowing down. Much of this will be related to COVID-19, although applications rolled out during the pandemic will likely remain once it passes. AI is being used to drive safety and security applications like automatic temperature checks, touchless authorisation, payment and control systems, and traffic monitoring, for example. AI is also being implemented for building management systems such as HVAC control and lighting.

Sophisticated AI algorithms are developed by processing large amounts of data, or ML training sets. For example, millions of faces could be scanned to provide an algorithm with a comprehensive understanding of the nuances of human expression. Once created, these completed algorithms could be tasked with reacting to massive amounts of real-time information such as facial tics, furrowed brows and pupil dilation.

AI/ML data is typically housed in vast data lakes. Specialised servers equipped with accelerators, GPUs for example, are ideally suited to processing AI/ML tasks. Data centre networks are ramping up bandwidth to feed these systems with very large data pipes, enabling the cost-effective development of AI tools.

IoT deployments will ramp

IoT applications are rapidly proliferating as companies seek to better manage facilities and occupants. Newer connectivity protocols like LTE-M and Zigbee are enabling wireless sensors for temperature, water use, room occupancy, HVAC control and other applications, while Power over Ethernet (PoE) is enabling everything from Wi-Fi access points to surveillance cameras.

IoT provides critical data that drives the optimisation of manufacturing for example, feeding a trend to apply AI to process controls. In cases where the communication is between machines, data communication systems must provide very low delay or latency. Latency is a primary reason that new smaller distributed systems or Edge data centres are deployed in close proximity to their supported systems. This trend is accelerating the deployment of distributed network facilities to support a large number of Edge data centre applications.

As IoT applications continue to multiply, the amount of data that will be generated is expected to grow exponentially. Processing this data locally, close to the edge, is perhaps the most effective way of dealing with IoT data. Gartner has predicted that approximately 65% of all servers will be deployed in Edge data centres by 2025.

The drive to single-mode fibre

Remote workers and shoppers demand immediate response times and this will drive widespread adoption of single-mode fibre. Single-mode fibre has been around for years, but as data centres ramp up adoption of 400G Ethernet in 2021, we will see deployments accelerate. Adoption was somewhat slowed in 2020 due to the difficulty of obtaining components from China, but this is expected to change this year.

Data centre capacity must continue to grow, however, there must also be a continuous improvement in data centre efficiency. This is precisely why fibre networks are shifting the bandwidth of network optics up – creating a need for more efficient network switching elements and driving the use of ‘fibre to the server’ as previous generations of copper cabling reach speed and distance limitations. The IEEE 802.3db task force is targeting 100, 200 and 400Gbps speeds for short reach server connections which will aid the development of lower cost VCSEL based optics.   

Accommodating remote workers and customers, making facilities safer and more efficient, and driving higher performance will be the hallmarks of data centre trends for 2021. Companies that pursue these initiatives will be at the forefront of Digital Transformation as the industry’s evolution continues.

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