In the wake of expanded global climate change agreements, four DC trends are expected to balance ESG mandates with digitalization demands.

A global provider of critical digital infrastructure and continuity solutions has released its annual list of the key data center trends to watch in 2022, headlined by a dramatic acceleration in actions to address sustainability and navigate the climate crisis.

Vertiv experts see long-held conversations around efficiency and utilization in the data center evolving to reflect a more comprehensive and aggressive focus on sustainability. This movement recognizes the urgency of the climate crisis, the relationship between resource availability and rising costs, and shifting political winds around the world. 

Rob Johnson, CEO, Vertiv

According to Vertiv CEO Rob Johnson, 2022 will see data center (DC) operators and suppliers actively pursue strategies that can make a real difference in addressing the climate crisis. The firm itself will focus on energy efficiency across its portfolio, find alternative and renewable energy technologies and zero-carbon energy sources, prioritize water-free cooling technologies, and partner with research leaders and customers to focus on impactful sustainability efforts. 

Data center trends 2022

The urgency of ESG challenges is reflected in the 2022 trends identified by Vertiv’s experts:

  • Stepping up sustainability and climate crisis solutions: DC operators will join the climate effort more purposefully in 2022. On the operational front, some organizations will embrace sustainable energy strategies that utilize a digital solution that matches energy use with 100% renewable energy and ultimately operates on 24/7 sustainable energy.

    Such hybrid distributed energy systems can provide both AC and DC power, which adds options to improve efficiencies and eventually allows DCs to operate carbon-free. Fuel cells, renewable assets, and long-duration energy storage systems, including battery energy storage systems and lithium-ion batteries (Vertiv experts expect the lithium battery recycling infrastructure to expand in 2022 and eliminate one of the few remaining barriers to widespread adoption of lithium-ion batteries in DCs), will all play a vital role in providing sustainable, resilient, and reliable outcomes.

    Thermal systems that use zero water are in demand, and we will see refrigerants with high global warming potential (GWP) phased down in favor of low-GWP refrigerants.

    More immediately, extreme weather events related to climate change will influence decisions around where and how to build new data centers and telecommunications networks. Other factors, including the reliability and affordability of the grid; regional temperatures; availability of water and renewable and locally-generated sustainable energy; and regulations that ration utility power and limit the amount of power afforded to data centers; play a part in the decision-making as well.

    These extreme weather events will drive more robust infrastructure systems across the Information and Communications Technology space which will need to be carefully aligned with sustainability goals.

    In 2022, DC and telecom operators will wrestle with these issues—and ever-present latency questions—and will drive a need for solutions that can address all of these challenges. 
  • The AI conundrum: As today’s networks get more complex and more distributed, and the augmented and virtual reality demands of the metaverse become more prominent, the need for real-time computing and decision-making becomes more critical. This real-time need is sensitive to latencies, and under the increasingly common hybrid model of enterprise, public and private clouds, colocation, and edge, full-time manual management is impractical, if not impossible. AI and machine learning will be critical to optimizing the performance of these networks.

    It will take focus and time to collect the right data, build the right models, and train the network platform to make the right decisions. However, the programming tools have become simplified enough that data scientists are able to point computing resources at a problem without having to be experts in programming or hardware. Even smaller firms can benefit from this trend. It all adds up to accelerated AI adoption in 2022.

    However, there are ripple effects. The increase in AI adoption will unavoidably increase computing and heat densities and, by extension, accelerate the adoption of liquid cooling. Among other challenges: lowering the barrier to entry places a premium on choosing the right vendors, platforms and systems.  
  • The post-pandemic DC takes shape: Some 2.9GW worth of new data center construction is under way globally – up from 1.6GW in 2020. These DC will be the first built specifically to meet the needs of a post-pandemic world.

    More activity will be focused at the edge, where the workload distribution is projected to rise from the current 5% to 30% over the next five years.

    Availability will remain the top priority, even at the edge, but lower latency is a rising need to support healthy buildings, smart cities, distributed energy resources, and 5G. The new year will see increased investments in the edge to support this new landscape(remote work, increased reliance on e-commerce and telehealth, video streaming) and the continuing rollout of 5G.
  • Drive toward integration of larger DCs: For years various DC equipment providers have been embracing integrated systems that allow for modular capacity additions, with integrated racks and rows. In 2022, we will see the next step in integration as DCs work with providers to improve integration of larger systems and deliver seamless interoperability.

    The benefits of integration as a concept are well known: reduced construction and deployment costs, flexible capacity management. Applying the same approach across larger systems delivers speed. Rack-based power solutions are early accelerators of this integration momentum. 
Anand Sanghi, President, Vertiv (ASI)

Said Anand Sanghi, President (Australia and New Zealand, Southeast Asia, India, South Korea and Japan), Vertiv: “Across the region, increased digitalization and 5G adoption have proved to be impactful to the data center industry. Each of the trends identified is playing out in Asia as well as we move towards 2022 and beyond.”

Meanwhile, Europe’s Climate Neutral Datacenter Pact are slated to make Europe the world’s first climate neutral continent by 2050. According to Lionel Legros, General Manager (APAC), OVHcloud, the Climate Neutral Datacenter pact makes the initiative a perfect base that could be extended into more geographies like APAC or countries ramping up on green initiatives. “Referencing the European model, which is designed to be inclusive (thereby enabling many other trade associations and industry players across Europe to join the pact), the engagements of such an approach in Asia Pacific could be designed to be accessible by all players: from the largest to the smallest, and to ensure the greatest impact. It is important to cover the data center industry at large, including, for example, delivery models like colocation,” according to Legros in a opinion piece.

In Europe, the pact has to led to some industry collaboration initiatives being launched. This includes industry working with technology research institutes to monitor sustainability targets with plans to offer the same for customers in the near future.

Another trend to be watched is AIOps. While AI is expected to pose a conundrum in causing more DC utilization and create carbon demand, AIOps can pay back more than what is consumed. According to Vinod Bijlani, Artificial intelligence and Data Practice Leader, APAC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise: “I hope to see more widespread use of the technology in areas such as security and power management. These use cases will be vital especially in a future where data centers are keeping a minimal number of staff on-site at a facility.”

Going forward, the data center industry as a whole can develop more technologies like AIOps to achieve greater sustainability to support long-term enterprise success and corporate social responsibility.