Quarantine Requires Digital Transformation – Managing the Cloud and the Data Center During Challenging Times
The brilliant technologist, research analyst, or marketer who foresaw the digital transformation of business and society could hardly have predicted it would happen overnight. But with the onset of the global health crisis that has required social distancing, shelter-in-place orders and parental homeschooling in communities around the world. We are witnessing what will surely be remembered as a sudden and historic deployment of digital access to services and remote work across every domain, including education, entertainment, government, medicine, and retail. And even as we see hopeful signs of economies slowly reemerging, we can only anticipate that more and more services will undergo further digitalization as the work-from-home population remains mobilized.
As a result of the pandemic, telework is skyrocketing, business-to-business communications are taking place digitally, online retail is surging, and social interactions are moving online. On the day that the government of Italy issued shelter-in-place orders, data traffic on the Internet Exchange in Milan jumped 40 percent. One US-based Internet provider has seen a 37 percent increase in streaming and web video consumption, gaming downloads go up 77 percent, and VoIP and video conferencing services rise 228 percent. Meanwhile, Cisco reported that Webex traffic from China has increased by more than 2,000 percent since the outbreak began.
A Shock to the System
The unprecedented demand on the cloud supporting these essential applications, and the IT loads that cloud service and data center providers have experienced in recent weeks, have both presented exceptional challenges – a shock to the system. For example, due to the high demand for collaboration solutions, Microsoft recently announced that it now has 44 million users of its Teams platform globally. The tech giant has seen an increase in the use of its cloud services particularly in metro areas operating under enforced social distancing or shelter-in-place orders, most of which also happen to be major business centers. Meanwhile, healthcare data scientists are also relying heavily on public cloud resources, utilizing Artificial Intelligence and machine learning tools to contribute to urgent coronavirus research.
It’s not easy to conceive of the magnitude and global scale of cloud data centers, with Microsoft operating in 58 and AWS in 73 regions around the world. The complexity of managing these environments is significant, and as with colocation and on-premises data centers, has only become more complicated in the wake of the pandemic. If companies want to ensure data center reliability and resiliency, nothing can be more essential to that end than the health and safety of their employees, customers, partners, and vendors. Hence, out an abundance of much-needed caution, many data center providers are restricting access to their facilities for all but only the most essential personnel to maintain business continuity.
Data center managers are in a difficult position. Even before the pandemic emerged and compromised the IT workforce, they’ve been the trusted guardians of rapidly expanding volumes of data and a growing number of mission-critical applications and services, and now these challenges have only intensified. Additionally, there is the challenge of managing a growing number of remote locations as more business-critical data moves to multiple edge and distributed IT sites, which is now made even more pressing due to lack of staff during the global health crisis. Meanwhile, the difficulty of balancing the historic surge of end-user demands with space and power constraints cannot be overestimated.
Older data centers are particularly challenged, maxed out in power capacity, and hamstrung by poor thermal design, which leads to hot spots and limits rack loading. Lacking access to tools that could provide visibility into actual power consumption to help improve control and decrease cost, legacy data center managers are forced to overprovision to maintain reserve margins.
Digital Transformation Will Depend on Uptime
Fortunately, many data center management tasks are now fully automated and can be managed remotely through an easy-to-use dashboard, so the number of IT personnel required to be onsite is minimal. Through the automation and real-time remote monitoring capabilities of data center management solutions, data center managers can manage workloads and maintain continuous availability with less need of on-site IT staff, just as productivity and remote collaboration tools are enabling companies to maintain day-to-day business operations with less office workers.
Moreover, data center management solutions can easily be retrofitted into virtually any current environment to maximize the utilization of infrastructure. These software solutions provide accurate, real-time power, thermal and health monitoring and management for individual servers, group of servers, racks, and IT equipment. By monitoring and aggregating real-time power consumption, data center managers can develop, analyze, plan, and manage capacity compared to actual utilization so that power and cooling infrastructure is used more efficiently.
Most notably, data center management solutions provide shared benefits for both IT and facility administrators, enabling groups that all too often have competing agendas to collaborate in reducing the data center’s energy footprint. As energy costs are the fastest-rising expense for today’s data centers, power consumption remains a top concern for managers of both cloud and enterprise data center environments, and never more so with the surging IT loads brought about by the sudden increase of populations working and studying from home.
Lastly, data center management solutions provide predictive analysis of thermal data to identify temperature issues before they can cause critical incidents. Today’s demanding computing environments often involve large workloads and intense processing, requiring considerable power and cooling, as well as high-density servers, which run hotter than traditional servers.
Disruptions are inevitable during the current crisis, but just as people adapt, we need to provide IT administrators with real-time data to effectively manage incidents and maintain healthy operations. During and after this crisis, the continuing digital transformation of our business, home and social environments will depend upon our ability to more effectively operate and scale our data centers.