AI, sustainability to shape data centre trends in 2024

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 23 Nov 2023
Vertiv CEO Giordano Albertazzi.
Vertiv CEO Giordano Albertazzi.

Urgent demand for artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, and the pressure to reduce energy consumption, costs and greenhouse gas emissions are among the trends expected to shape the data centre industry in 2024 and beyond.

These are the key findings of the data centre trends forecast compiled by criticaldigital infrastructure and continuity solutions provider Vertiv.

The predictions were released this week by the company’s executives at the Vertiv Driving Innovation 2023: The Prefabricated Modular Revolution Europe, Middle East and Africa press conference, in Zagreb, Croatia.

According to the trends forecast, the proliferation of AI, along with the infrastructure and sustainability challenges inherent in AI-capable computing, can be felt across the data centre industry and will become intense throughout 2024.

Speaking at the conference, Karsten Winther, president of Vertiv EMEA, explained that as processing-intensive computing applications rapidly grow − as a result of the deployment of emerging technologies such as AI and generative AI − data centre operators are evaluating liquid cooling technologies to increase energy-efficiency.

The benefits of liquid cooling for data centres − such as enabling higher efficiency, greater rack density and improved cooling performance − make it easier for organisations that want to incorporate emerging technologies in the era of AI, he added.

“The AI need for more power and muscle has set completely new standards for data centre builds and even for large-scale retrofits [upgrades or expansions]. There is a lot of install base out there, which has been built for traditional computing and it's all air-cooled.

“We know that in the near future, more organisations will opt for solutions that can be deployed with speed and this is where prefabricated solutions come in. Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar designs, prefabricated modular data centres − also known as containerised data centres − are engineered to meet business-specific requirements to fit in a right-sized secure infrastructure and withstand processing-intensive computing applications.”

Vertiv CEO Giordano Albertazzi noted that companies are digitising at an ever-faster pace, challenging the ability of IT teams to enable new use cases, such as internet of things, predictive analytics, AI, augmented and virtual reality applications.

These significant changes present opportunities to implement more eco-friendly technologies and practices, including liquid cooling for AI servers, applied in concert with air-cooled thermal management to support the entire data centre space.

“AI and its downstream impact on data centre densities and power demands have become the dominant storylines in our industry,” said Albertazzi.

“Finding ways to help customers both support the demand for AI and reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, is a significant challenge requiring new collaborations between data centres, chip and server manufacturers, and infrastructure providers.”

Vertiv’s experts expect these four trends to dominate the data centre ecosystem in 2024:

AI sets the terms for new builds and retrofits:

Surging demand for AI across applications is pressuring organisations to make significant changes to their operations. Legacy facilities are ill-equipped to support widespread implementation of the high-density computing required for AI, with many data centres lacking the required infrastructure for liquid cooling.

In the coming year, more and more organisations are going to opt instead for new data centre construction approaches – increasingly featuring prefabricated modular solutions that shorten deployment timelines – or large-scale retrofits that fundamentally alter their power and cooling infrastructure.

Expanding energy storage alternatives:

New energy storage technologies and approaches deployed in the data centre have shown the ability to intelligently integrate with the grid and deliver on a pressing objective – reducing generator starting watts.

Battery energy storage systems support extended runtime demands by shifting the load as necessary and for longer durations and can integrate seamlessly with alternative energy sources, such as solar or fuel cells. Battery energy storage system installations will be more common in 2024, eventually evolving to fit “bring your own power” models and delivering the capacity, reliability and cost-effectiveness needed to support AI-driven demand.

Enterprises prioritise flexibility:

While cloud and co-location providers aggressively pursue new deployments to meet demand, organisations with enterprise data centres are likely to diversify investments and deployment strategies.

The introduction of AI is prompting organisations to wrestle with how best to enable and apply the technology, while still meeting sustainability objectives. Businesses may start to look to on-premises capacity to support proprietary AI, and edge application deployments may be impacted by AI tailwinds.

Many organisations can be expected to prioritise incremental investment – leaning heavily on prefabricated modular solutions – and service and maintenance to extend the life of legacy equipment.

The race to the cloud faces security hurdles:

Gartner projects global spending on public cloud services will increase by 20.4% in 2024, and the mass migration to the cloud shows no signs of abating. This puts pressure on cloud providers to increase capacity quickly to support demand for AI and high-performance compute, and they will continue to turn to co-location partners around the world to enable that expansion.

For cloud customers moving more and more data offsite, security is paramount, and a significant number of organisations are expected to increase spending on cyber security/information security in 2024. Disparate national and regional data security regulations will also create complex security challenges as efforts to standardise continue.