THE PANDEMIC-DRIVEN DATA TSUNAMI
On March 14, 2020 my wife and I boarded a plane from Sydney to San Francisco. Earlier that week I participated at the Adapt conference on the Gold Coast. Little did I know that it would be the last in-person event I attended for over a year. Near the tail end of the conference, we heard that Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, who were staying a few miles away from us, had contracted Covid-19. The world was abuzz with the news and it started to hit home that things were going to be very different going forward. We found out during our flight home that it was the last one to leave Australia. The pandemic lockdown started while we were in the air. All other flights in and out of Australia had been canceled. We landed at SFO 15 hours later and saw that the entire world had changed. We were extremely lucky to catch that flight back home.
When the lockdown orders started in the US just a few weeks later, one thing became crystal clear; digital infrastructure was about to take center stage like never before. Seemingly overnight businesses, local and federal government offices, school districts, colleges, universities, and individuals all over the world were forced to complete tasks online. This started one of the largest growth spurts in our industry’s history. In 2014, IDC predicted a 10x growth in data with 44ZB of data generated in 2020. In March 2021, IDC verified that the world generated 64.2ZB of data, a 16x growth rate. 2020 was an unprecedented year. However, contrary to popular belief, it was not an anomaly. It has become the new baseline. IDC’s 2018 prediction was that the world will generate 175ZB of data per year by 2025. If we apply the same growth prediction to the new baseline of 64.2ZB in 2020, then the world will generate over 255ZB of data by 2025. That is assuming that we continue on the same trajectory with the same number of people and machines doing the same things. That is not the case. People will not be streaming back into offices full time. It will be a hybrid of remote working, less travel and more highly interactive, broadband heavy, compute-intensive online activity across the board. Keep in mind that the numbers above assume approximately half the global population will have access to the Internet via broadband. This also predates new investments such as the US’ plan to provide 100 percent broadband coverage for the country. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that two billion more people will be going online by 2022 in China, India, Africa and LATAM alone. Couple that with the acceleration of smart cities, edge deployments and rural area broadband connectivity programs and we could easily exceed 255ZB of data by 2025. Contrary to popular belief, this data growth is not initiated by humans directly. The Internet 4.0 is being built for machines to talk to each other to enable humans to be more engaged and productive. The number of things connected to the Internet in 2021 will be 46 billion and is predicted to exceed more than 125 billion by 2030. The number of sensors behind those things will exceed one trillion. The advancement in distributed edge computing and quantum computing in the core will enable massive processing of data sets at a scale we have not seen before. The barriers are being broken down and there will be incredible leaps in capabilities in the first half of this decade. The adoption and use of technology will continue at a staggering rate, driving this unprecedented demand.
This is the new normal and Digital Infrastructure will need to handle this data tsunami. Tony Bishop and Dave McCrory from Digital Realty eloquently outlined this phenomenon in the last edition of InterGlobix Magazine’s cover story on Data Gravity. They state that the continuous data creation lifecycle underpins Data Gravity based on this equation: (Data Mass (DM) x Data Activity (DA) x Bandwidth) / Latency2 = Data Gravity. More data, more use, more bandwidth with faster access closer to you draws more data to you like gravity attracts planets or the stars. The data tsunami has been building for years and the pandemic just made it bigger.
SUPPLY CHAIN STRAIN
At the first Infrastructure Masons virtual event on Earth Day 2020, I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Noelle Walsh, the Corporate VP of Cloud and Innovation at Microsoft. That event was the launch of the iMasons’ Sustainability Vision—Every Click Improves the Future. In that interview, Noelle shared a stat that blew everyone away. Microsoft had turned up 100MW of new capacity across their portfolio in two weeks to support the surge of demand in their online services. That was the largest turn up in the shortest timeframe I had ever heard of. It highlighted a number of things for many of us. First, the demand was real and will not slow down. Second, the supply chain was going to be constrained unlike any other time in our history. Third, digital infrastructure personnel were critical and had to drive much of this remotely.
Microsoft is one of hundreds of thousands of companies competing for the same resources. All of them are counting on partners who have to operate at diminished capacity because of the pandemic restrictions on the number of people allowed in manufacturing and assembly plants, construction sites, and on-site turn-up services. What happened in 2020 made all of us in the digital infrastructure industry very proud. We found a way. Teams all over the world delivered the capacity that enabled the massive underlying growth that every person on the planet counted on.
Watching the professionals in our industry rise to the occasion was awesome. We had numerous iMasons’ virtual events throughout the year showcasing people, companies and their accomplishments. The world counted on our community and we delivered. With so many people impacted by the pandemic, we also reflected on how lucky we were to be in this industry. We all had difficult challenges in planning, logistics and delivery, but we were employed and involved in one of the most important deliverables in history. As I have said for years, Digital Infrastructure is the lifeblood of society. Without it, things slow down and can even stop.