Insufficient Sustainability Initiatives, Workforce Shortage & Lack of Transparency Ails Data Centre industry: Uptime Report

Even as the data centre industry is witnessing strong growth, on-site power, lack of skilled workforce, inadequate sustainability measures and other complexities continue to be a cause of concern.

In its eleventh annual Global Data centre Survey, Uptime Institute announced the release of its the largest and comprehensive findings in the digital critical infrastructure space.

The findings showcase an industry enjoying widespread growth while adapting to increasing complexity and challenges such as evolving efficiency and sustainability requirements, rising outage costs, the ongoing workforce shortage, supply chain interruptions and other issues.

DCs not Closely Tracking Vital Metrics

Uptime’s research revealed that organisations are not closely tracking their environmental footprint despite the global sustainability push. While most data centre owners and operators track PUE and more than 80 per cent measure power consumption rates and effectiveness, many still are not prioritizing vital metrics for improving and reporting sustainability.

Around 51 per cent of respondents measure water use in some way (mainly at the individual site level instead of across their entire portfolio of facilities). Less than half of respondents say that they track server utilization, only one-third calculate carbon emission levels and just 25 per cent track e-waste or equipment lifecycle metrics.

Additionally, PUE levels have remained stagnant. In 2021, the average annualized data centre power usage effectiveness (PUE) was 1.57, a minor improvement over 2020’s average of 1.59 that is consistent with the overall trend of PUE stagnation over the past five years, according to the survey.

“The 2021 survey results highlight continued growth within the sector and the many complex challenges data centre owners and operators are facing today,” said Andy Lawrence, Executive Director of Research, Uptime Institute. “The stakes have never been higher when it comes to outage prevention, environmental sustainability and overall performance. That’s why organisations must continue to carefully reassess their mission-critical digital infrastructure and operations to minimise service delivery risk and maximize resiliency.”

Staffing Shortages

The findings pointed out that staffing shortages continue and AI is not expected to reduce requirements in the near future. As the sector continues to grow, the shortage of qualified data centre professionals continues.

Nearly half of owners and operators surveyed report difficulty finding skilled candidates, up from 38 per cent in 2018. As such, it is clear why 75 per cent of respondents believe that most data centre professionals have long-term job security.

Three out of four owners and operators believe artificial intelligence (AI) will reduce their data centre staffing needs at some point, but half project this shift is more than five years away.

Take the case of Singapore. Just like many other DC operators in the world, companies in Singapore have been having a hard time hiring high-demand roles such as technicians and analysts of power systems, control specialists of facilities, robotics technologists, amongst other factors.

Singapore’s information communications technology (ICT) sector currently employs about 200,000 people and will require another 60,000 in the next three years, according to Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister in charge of the Smart Nation Initiative. Yet, the education system is only producing 2,800 ICT graduates annually, which is 8,400 graduates over three years, leaving a shortage of 51,600 professionals.

“There is a lot of churn in this segment as the work is demanding and people have to work on holidays. People tend to leave jobs after a few years and move into other industries,” Edward van Leent, Chairman and CEO of UK-based energy consultancy EPI Group, had said at W.Media’s Digital Week.

Despite progress, the proportion of women in the data centre industry remains low. Nearly one-third (30 per cent) of owners and operators say the proportion of women working in their data centres has increased over the past year. But there is still much work to be done.

More than 75 per cent of respondents report that women make up just 10 per cent of their workforce, while only 5 per cent indicate that half of their staff are women. This aligns with gender disparity levels Uptime Institute has reported since 2018.

The 2021 survey results highlight continued growth within the sector and the many complex challenges data centre owners and operators are facing today. The stakes have never been higher when it comes to outage prevention, environmental sustainability and overall performance. That’s why organisations must continue to carefully reassess their mission-critical digital infrastructure and operations to minimise service delivery risk and maximize resiliency.

ANDY LAWRENCE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, UPTIME INSTITUTE


Outages Decline

The number of outages has declined, but the consequences continue to worsen. In 2021, 69 per cent of data centre owners and operators reported experiencing some form of outage (regardless of severity) in the past three years, a noteworthy decrease from 78 per cent for the three years to 2020, according to the survey.

While respondents indicate that just over half of all downtime incidents are fleeting and have few consequences, the remaining half cause substantial financial, operational and reputational damage. And 62 per cent of outages that respondents classified as significant, serious or severe cost more than $100,000 (an increase from 56 per cent in 2020), while 15 per cent of these outages cost over $1 million.

On-site power remains the most common cause of outages, and most downtime incidents are likely preventable. As with previous years, on-site power was the most common cause of outages in 2021, followed by cooling failures, software or IT system errors and network issues.

The results show that 79 per cent of data centre outages involve human error, and that staff failing to execute or incorrect processes and procedures are the top two issues contributing to those incidents. Three out of four owners and operators believe their most recent outage was preventable, a 16 per cent increase over 2019.

Pressure on Supply Chains

The COVID-19 crisis, extreme weather, and political factors have caused supply chain interruptions over the past year. Most suppliers to data centres anticipate that problems with the supply of critical data centre products and services in the coming two years will affect capital expenditure projects or IT equipment availability, or both. A mere 25 per cent of suppliers believe there will not be any delays or impacts.

Data centre suppliers expect large cloud and internet companies to reshape the supply chain. Nearly one-third of suppliers expect most of their customers will own data centres 20 MW or more within five years, and half report that these larger customers often seek projects to be delivered on timelines, budgets, or at scales that prove challenging.

Half of suppliers believe that large data centre operators will likely take more control of their custom designs and create their own supply chains to bypass traditional equipment sourcing options in the next three to five years.

Rack density levels are creeping up. Rack density is slowly rising but remains relatively moderate and typically well under 10 kilowatts (kW) per IT cabinet, even at flagship sites. More than one-third of respondents stated their most common rack density is currently below 5 kW, while nearly half reported between 5 and 10 kW.

The survey results indicate a shift toward more powerful racks, between 5 and 10 kW, in facilities larger than 3 megawatts (MW) of maximum IT load supported, compared with smaller sites.

The data centre edge has expanded, according to the survey. More than 60 per cent of respondents anticipate that edge computing demand will increase this year. Over one-fourth (26 per cent) expect demand to grow significantly, compared to 18 per cent in 2020, the finding said.

Another interesting point that the survey has touched upon is the sensitive topic of Cloud providers lacking in transparency. Although owners and operators are increasingly moving mission-critical workloads to the public cloud, a quarter of respondents would be more inclined to do so if visibility into the operational resiliency of the service was better, the survey said.

Venkatesh Ganesh

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