Why Data Centers Must Innovate Beyond Technology

With demand soaring, data center providers must deliver sustainable infrastructure at speed and scale, but only disruptive innovation will ultimately supply the winning strategy.

The numbers are in: the writing is on the wall. A Synergy Research Group analysis of the data center footprints and plans of the world’s major cloud and Internet service providers, including the largest e-commerce, gaming, search, and social media companies, indicates exceedingly high growth forecasts.

Over the next five years, hyperscalers’ annual total revenues are projected to grow between 20 to 30 percent, in turn driving spending in new data center development. While the current known future pipeline consists of 314 new hyperscale data centers, the installed base of operational hyperscale data centers will exceed 1,000 such facilities within three years and continue growing rapidly thereafter. A host of other forecasts from the most respected consulting and market research firms covering our industry are equally bullish.

The companies expected to invest the most heavily in future new data center development are the usual suspects: Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Indeed, last year, these same tech titans accounted for more than 60 percent of the overall investment in new hyperscale data center builds in the US, according to ResearchAndMarkets.com. The US is also host country to the most hyperscale data centers in the pipeline, but markets across Asia and EMEA are also projected to grow in digital infrastructure in response to global business demand.

With data centers underpinning the very fabric of an exploding digital economy, innovation in our industry has never been more critical. But what does it mean to be truly innovative in our business? Is a two-percentage-point improvement in power usage effectiveness (PUE) enough to meet the evolving needs of our customers?

I would venture to suggest that we look upon innovation with a wider aperture—beyond incremental power usage improvements, beyond AI/ML and VR/AR, beyond even singularly effective, proprietary cooling technologies that enable sustainable capacity growth and higher density computing environments—and instead look at innovation through the eyes of our customers. Amongst my colleagues and our partners and vendors, we refer to this lens as “disruptive innovation,” which is innovation that creates a new market, and a new standard for excellence.

A render of Aligned’s latest data center in the Chicagoland area – ORD-02

Disrupting Platform Delivery

Data center growth is driving a new era of disruptive innovation in real estate and financing, design and construction, sustainability, staffing, and, most significantly, customer success. This level of innovation represents a seismic shift; it’s not just the latest technical widget or shiny new app—it’s innovating beyond technology.

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