Datacenter industry sees demand growing, but so are energy costs
You gotta spend money to make money – and where are all the staff?
Datacenter operators are confident demand for their services will continue to increase, but worry about the high cost of energy, their ability to source UPS hardware and cooling units, and crucially, being able to hire staff with requisite skills in a competitive market.
According to a survey by consulting outfit BCS, the datacenter industry is preparing for a boom over the coming year. Respondents including colocation providers, corporate datacenter users, developers and investors, and IT and telecom service providers said that not only is the sector growing, they're concerned they can't get staff with the right skills to shoulder their servers; a full 98 percent said they thought they'd struggle to find employees in the coming year.
In the six months to the end of April, around three-quarters of respondents said they'd increased their managed datacenter capacity, despite cautious behavior in every other part of the technology sector due to economic turbulence. This growth "continues to be encouraging" for the datacenter industry, the report's authors said.
The growth in volumes of data and infrastructure to manage it have outpaced the availability of trained professionals, while a lack of specialized training programs means there may be a gap in the multidisciplinary skills required for datacenter operations.
The report notes that skilled professionals are in high demand, which can make it a challenge for datacenter operators to attract and retain the top talent they need.
Who's needed most? Design and build staffers – so that's your quantity surveyors, site managers, and site engineers – without whom new DC construction cannot move forward. Over 80 percent said they were worried about a shortage of skilled build contractors. Then, on the ops side, some 76 percent were worried, with a whopping 68 percent of respondents directly experiencing shortages among operations and network engineers and technicians over the past year. This figure has increased from the 55 percent reported just six months ago.
Altogether 63 percent said they expect their self-managed technical floorspace to expand over the coming year, with 85 percent of the service provider respondents indicating this. Mechanical and electrical project managers are also in short supply – 66 percent said this was a problem, up from 60 percent at the same time last year.
We appreciate power
The concern over energy, says BCS, is expected to drive demand for more "efficient" capacity as well as increase interest in reusing the waste heat bit barns generate.
The report goes on to note there is "substantial evidence" that power consumption in bit barns will increase, at least in the near future, with 81 percent of respondents saying they expect higher consumption over the next three years.
Nearly a quarter of those surveyed expect the average rack power/cooling level to reach 12kW-15kW over the next year, a notable increase compared with previous surveys. However, those expecting a level higher than 15kW per rack remains small at 7 percent.
The cost of energy is also becoming a big driver of efficiency efforts, with the report noting that in the UK in particular, price inflation has hit its highest level in 40 years. The survey found that 88 percent expect the rising cost of power to push demand for more efficient datacenter capacity over the next three years.
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In response, 82 percent expect the sourcing of power for their facilities to be at least 90 percent from renewable sources, with just 3 percent believing this will not be the case.
Lean, green, waste heat machine
One measure that has been increasingly in the headlines over the past year or so has been the reuse of waste heat generated by datacenters, but it seems that a significant proportion of those in the industry itself (63 percent of respondents) are skeptical about the economic viability of such schemes.
Developers and investors were the most skeptical, with 80 percent of these agreeing that the economic viability of waste energy recovery needed to improve greatly in order for them to consider it, while among datacenter users the figure was much lower.
This skepticism may be because waste heat from the average datacenter is not high enough for applications like municipal heating, so a heat pump is required, which itself consumes energy, as The Register previously reported.
Despite this, two-thirds of respondents agreed that retrofitting existing facilities is something that they would consider.
In other findings, 86 percent said they had experienced supply chain volatility over the past year, which has had an impact on their ability to deliver new datacenter facilities.
It has become somewhat easier to obtain key materials for building such as steel and concrete, but the purchase of cooling units and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) hardware has apparently proven to be the biggest challenge: 57 percent reported difficulties in securing such equipment over the past year.
This may impact decisions regarding future bit barn locations: nearly two thirds of survey participants indicated this would influence their choice, rising to 85 percent among design/engineering and construction respondents. ®