Data underpins nearly everything we do today. As more of that data is being stored off-premises in data centers, and the workloads that process them are themselves more often executed in data centers, data centers underpin nearly everything we do in our digital lives. And, of course, our digital lives now encompass a very substantial part of our total lives – from work to school to health to shopping and entertainment. The global pandemic has made it plain that, in a time of social distancing, data centers are essential to keeping the world going.
In light of this, as we celebrate the third annual International Data Center Day today, which is focused on “planning for the future,” I think it’s important for people to have a better understanding of the trends shaping our industry – how data centers are evolving over time, design innovations and the growing need we have for talent.[i]
How data centers evolved over time
During the late 1990s when the internet was just beginning to scale, large telecommunications carriers needed connection points to exchange traffic. We opened our first Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data center near Washington D.C. (DC1) on July 29, 1999 to provide just that – a neutral, equal-access location for traffic exchange. As we continued to work with network service providers (NSPs) to build out these carrier-neutral IBX data centers across the globe, other service providers and enterprises began to follow as they wanted to place their services closer to each other and population centers for better performance. In most cases, this meant providing retail colocation space, but some of the largest customers, those we now call “hyperscale” companies, needed wholesale space and power to support massive scaling across thousands of servers.
Today, Platform Equinix® spans more than 220 data centers across 26 countries and is home to a rich digital ecosystem of more than 10,000 businesses, including more than 1,800 networks and 2,900+ cloud and IT service providers. Our recently completed Equinix DC21 Ashburn data center is just steps from DC1 and provides an additional 41,657 sq. ft. of colocation space. And that’s just one building on the Ashburn campus, one of the biggest data center markets in the world.
Equinix DC21 IBX data center
Developing the data centers of the future
But growing demand for data center capacity isn’t the only thing driving our industry. As discussed in “The Data Center of the Future Begins in France,” additional forces such as rapid growth in smaller metros, workloads moving to the edge and increasing urgency to move to climate neutrality are beginning to shape how we develop the data centers of the future. These are fueling a need for:
Modularity – A broad range of form factors is key to meeting the very different needs of customers. In addition to traditional retail colocation data centers and hyperscale data centers, we are building smaller facilities with a modular design to address the needs of Tier 2 cities and edge workloads.
Flexibility – Today’s data centers need to be flexible enough to adapt to changing customer needs. New cooling systems that allow for greater variations in cabinet power densities allow us to accommodate customers with higher power density requirements more easily. And services such as Equinix Metal™ and Equinix Fabric™ enable our customers to deploy and connect physical or virtual infrastructure on demand in minutes.
Efficiency – A mix of capital investments, energy efficient systems, sustainable data center design and other best practices have enabled us to lower our current annual Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) goals to 1.20-1.44, depending on climate, and we are researching solutions that can help us drive PUE down even further, moving closer to 1.0. At the same time, we are exploring future data center innovations such as decoupled energy platforms that can support multiple energy sources, energy storage and virtualized power delivery that will further improve efficiency and sustainability.
Sustainability – With a comprehensive environmental sustainability plan in place, along with additional environmental commitments made recently, we are on a steady march toward climate neutrality and scaling our purchasing of renewable energy to reach our goal of using 100% clean and renewable energy for our global platform.
How Equinix is inspiring the next generation of data center professionals
For me, one of the most exciting aspects of the evolution of data centers is how we are helping enterprises accelerate their digital transformation so they will be in a better position to meet future challenges. Whether those challenges are strategic, like improving speed to market for business growth, or tactical, like meeting surging demand for compute or network resources, our customers know that flexible, modern digital infrastructure will help them address those needs. And having an agile IT infrastructure also means they are more resilient when faced with unexpected hurdles, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, or natural or manmade disasters that might impact operations.
However, to continue to grow, data center operators like Equinix need more skilled professionals to staff and maintain our facilities. According to research by Uptime Institute, 50% of data center operators reported having difficulty finding qualified candidates for open jobs in 2020, compared to 38% in 2018. And demand for data center staff is expected to continue growing – a minimum of 300,000 additional professionals are needed by 2025 just to maintain “safe operations.”[ii]
In fact, in the Americas where I lead IBX Operations, Equinix has more than a dozen active late-stage projects to construct new data centers or expand existing ones, and we have even more active late-stage projects in other regions. Equinix is not alone in this – as the industry adds capacity around the world, it is deepening the gap between staff needed to accommodate data center growth and talent available.
This gap is one reason International Data Center Day is important. At Equinix, we sponsor a number of programs to encourage people to consider a career in data center management and help train them for a variety of positions. These include:
Equinix Digital Infrastructure Scholarship: A pilot program we are launching this spring, this scholarship will provide high school seniors an opportunity to work toward employment at Equinix. It includes a scholarship for a one-year engineering technology program at a Northern Virginia college,[iii] as well as the opportunity to participate in an Equinix mentorship and 12-week paid internship. If it’s successful, we plan to expand this to other regions.
Pathways: In 2020, we hired 90 new employees through Pathways, a program designed to bring employment opportunities to underrepresented talent communities, including people with disabilities, women of color, members of the military and spouses, and more.
Career development: We sponsor various career mentoring programs for young people such as career sessions for high school students in San Jose, New York, Madrid and Hong Kong, as well as job shadowing for a day in Loudoun County, Virginia. Equinix also supports career pathways programs in Hong Kong and Dallas.
Virtual Job 4 A Day with Equinix for Loudoun County Public School students (March 2021)
Jon Lin, Americas President at Equinix, mentoring Loudoun County Public School students in 2018
Loudoun County Public School students in Job 4 A Day with Equinix in 2018
New York Summer Search (2016)
[i] 7×24 Exchange International, International Data Center Day website.
[ii] Network World, Data-center training, recruitment need to change to meet staffing demands, Feb 2021; Uptime Institute, The People Challenge: Global Data Center Staffing Forecast 2021-2025; Data Center Dynamics, Data centers need to find 300,000 more staff by 2025, Jan 2021.
The original article was published here.