What is the current state of data center rack density, and what lies ahead for cooling as more users put artificial intelligence to work in their applications?

For years, the threat of high rack densities loomed yet each passing year saw the same 2-4kW per rack average.  That’s now nudging up.  While specific sectors like Federal Agencies, higher education, and enterprise R&D are certainly into high performance computing with 20, 80, or even 100kW per rack, the reality today remains one of high[ER] density in the realm of 8-12kW per rack (see Uptime Institute’s global survey 2020).  Cooling higher densities doesn’t mean over building at risk of stranded capacity for parts of the year.  The answer is load matching via software that can respond accordingly and the infrastructure hardware to support it.

Many industries are experiencing difficulty finding enough skilled workers. What’s the outlook for data center staffing, and what are the key strategies for finding talented staff? 

Cleveland Community College Case StudyData Center staffing is as challenged, if not perhaps more so, than many industries.  As the world becomes increasingly complex – perhaps more accurately, specialized – specific skill sets become more precious.  This challenge hits datacom at all levels – from design and construction to operations and maintenance.  Amazon can pop up a distribution center in rural locales and train an unskilled workforce to perform its warehousing activities.  A cloud data center going up in remote locales needs far fewer workers, but the total available skills versus those needed per capita are much more scarce.  The good news is there are organizations working hard to fix this.  Cleveland College in North Carolina, for example, developed a first-of-its-kind curriculum for Mission Critical Operations in conjunction with 7×24 Exchange.  7×24 Exchange with its Women in Mission Critical, is also leading the way in bringing diversity to the datacom sector to enrich as well as increase the pool of candidates.  Ten years ago, the average high school or college grad didn’t know what a data center was.  Through industry, and now educators’ efforts, that’s beginning to shift.

How have enterprise data center needs evolved during the pandemic? What do you expect for 2021?

The pandemic was an immediate stress test on IT – on the hardware and the software, both distributed (ie: users) and the data center.  Many enterprises were, understandably, caught off guard.  One of the most basic impacts was trying to make up for users’ connectivity challenges as much as possible at the applications and at the data center.  Anything that could be done at the architecture to improve operational efficiency was needed to improve the UX.  One interesting thing to watch over the next 1-2 years might be how the enterprise architecture may change in response to a more distributed workforce long-term as many larger organizations are choosing not to return to the office.  That’s leading many to relocate because an office commute is no longer a consideration.  Does the large enterprise’s need start to look more like average consumer consuming or computing cloud content?  More immediately, enterprises have quickly sought to refresh their infrastructure or just shore it up with a bit more failsafe – the old, ‘we can’t control the universe but we can control our response to it.’

Edge computing continues to be a hot topic. How is this sector evolving, and what use cases and applications are gaining the most traction with customers? 

The edge moves and changes shape.  Maybe always will.  High tech manufacturing and healthcare are two places the edge is evolving.  High tech manufacturing and warehousing is adopting more autonomous robotic operation needing to be updated and to learn in situ.  As healthcare becomes more digitally-oriented, whether because of the connected devices in a modern healthcare setting or the adoption of telehealth, firmware and applications need to be reliably robust, and secure in the healthcare provider’s hands.

How is density, efficiency & economy of scale entering the conversation?