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2019: The year of digital transformation for APAC’s data centres

07 Jan 2019
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Article by CommScope Asia Pacific Enterprise vice president Gavin Milton-White

With a population of 4.5 billion people that are increasingly connected to the Internet, Asia Pacific has become one of the fastest growing markets for data centres in the world today. According to CBRE and various other analysts, the region is projected to become the biggest data centre market globally by 2020. Digital transformation in the data centre, powered by the advancement of emerging technologies, is set to shape the future of this booming industry, and CEOs of companies like Boeing, Google, IBM and Uber are already seeing success through the adoption of digital processes.

In 2019, there will be more demand for digital transformation initiatives than ever before, as businesses increasingly prioritize digitalization in order to stay relevant and ahead of the competition. As 5G networks and devices start to come online, this will drive several kinds of technology that will be needed. Data centre managers will have to be prepared for this. Five key emerging technologies will continue to significantly impact data centres in 2019: 5G wireless technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR), blockchain, and artificial intelligence (AI).

5G Wireless Technology

We are moving towards the Internet of Everything, and the final link between devices and the network is likely to be wireless. 5G wireless technology delivers significantly higher data rates and significantly more data in many more places. Mobile workforces, from sales teams to delivery, maintenance and repair organizations, will all use more sophisticated applications that rely on faster and more reliable data transfers. On a macro level, a bigger example would be the smart technologies powering cities of the future that require huge bandwidth – from Singapore’s Smart Nation ambitions, the Digital India plan to Thailand’s 4.0 vision.

While widespread deployment of 5G isn’t happening for at least a few years, data centres have to prepare for it. Infrastructure must evolve to support higher wireless bandwidth and more ubiquitous data usage. Companies and building owners are looking beyond just Wi-Fi to enable strong and consistent in-building mobile wireless services with distributed antenna systems (DAS). In the outdoor environment, service providers are upgrading and expanding their fiber networks to carry wireless data back to the core of the network, or in many cases, to edge data centres for situations where local processing is required for low-latency applications like driverless cars or remote surgery. Technology like C-RAN (Cloud Radio Access Networks or Centralized Radio Access Networks) and edge computing will be implemented in 2019 to support 5G wireless services because there will be more data processed at the edges of the network.

IoT

One of the 5G use cases is to specifically support IoT applications. As companies deploy thousands or millions of wired and wireless sensors that produce large amounts of raw data, this data is turned into useful information providing value for the user.

For instance, banks are harnessing Big Data and IoT to translate large volumes of data into insights for smarter decisions, offering more personalised customer experiences and improving efficiencies. Leveraging the rise of wearables, the smartwatch is one big trend that will transform retail banking.

To other emerging industrial IoT applications where production processes are controlled in real-time, the network infrastructure needs to have very low predictable latency and very high reliability. In 2019, data centre operators will use augmenting intelligence in autonomous systems to make use of expanded peer-to-peer communications at the edge, which is new to 5G networks. Fiber optic infrastructure will provide reliable low-cost transmission capacity for edge data centres while placing edge data centres close to the IoT sensors and actuators will reduce transmission latency and transmission costs.

Augmented and Virtual Reality

AR is the use of a device like a cell phone to display relevant data while the user is doing or watching something live. This year has seen an increase in AR as technicians hold phones while repairing a product to see a schematic of the product with instructions about how to make the repair.  On the other hand, VR is a complete immersion in a virtual world through the use of an audiovisual headset. These have practical applications for training and education. For example, Singapore has been fine-tuning a VR system which allows medical students wearing a VR headset to delve into the anatomy of a human body.

While AR can be supported with today’s networks because the data is often downloaded to a handheld device, VR will require real-time video over an Internet communications link. Video content is now originating from mobile devices. If the connection is unreliable, the experience is degraded and may become useless. This new year will see higher-speed 5G networks designed to support peer to peer traffic with a greatly enhanced capability to support data generated at the end user device.

Blockchain

Blockchain is a decentralized database that is encoded, unchangeable, consensual, verifiable and permanent. When people hear “blockchain,” they think of Bitcoin, but there are myriad potential uses for the technology. It can and is being used for anything that requires a permanent, secure, and verifiable record that can be accessed in a decentralized fashion.

For logistics, blockchain is being used to establish trusted information such as where a product was made, when it was made, when it shipped, where it is located and arrived, and how it was used. It’s a shared public encryption system in which distributed users participate in the operation of the blockchain. Everyone holds the blockchain data with a reduced vulnerability to attack.

Anything that requires or can leverage a distributed ledger can benefit from Blockchain. Due to its benefits, blockchain will be increasingly adopted in 2019, which will impact data centres housing the distributed ledgers.

Artificial intelligence

AI has been slow to develop because it has historically required massive computers to support it. However, this is now changing. The cost of computing has greatly decreased – AI algorithms have improved; edge computing has enabled AI to be deployed in new ways.

AI is already starting to bear fruits for the community at-large. In Thailand for example, some of Bangkok’s hospitals are already deploying AI systems to help physicians find information from the huge volume of cancer research papers.

Developing the models to run AI is done on the large central cloud resources. This model is then downloaded to the edge layer where the execution of AI provides benefits in local time sensitive environments. The edge AI analyzes and controls the local process (for e.g.) and then feeds back information to the cloud helping to improve the higher layer model.

To prepare for a continued AI push in 2019, corporations will adopt high-speed, low-latency networks coupled with high-end performance edge compute. Layering AI between local and centralized resources will combine the power of central cloud with the agility and performance of edge-based AI.

It’s about the infrastructure

The technologies discussed have been around but are in the process of maturing and showing benefits that will bring about more adoption in 2019, forcing a digital transformation in the data centres. To prepare for this, data centre managers will implement advanced network infrastructures to make their networks faster, more ubiquitous, more reliable and more secure. By migrating to higher-speed networks, expanding the reach of fiber and wireless links, and adopting edge computing strategies, businesses can lay a firm foundation for the digital transformation.