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In 2021, Automation will Drive Data Centre and Network Innovation
March 18, 2021 Blog

Authored by: Michael Kurniawan, Schneider Electric Secure Power Business Vice President for Singapore, Malaysia & Brunei

The current pandemic is driving forward-looking companies to become increasingly interested in predictive technology and remote capabilities in data centres. While most businesses have risk mitigating measures in place in one form or another, no one could be prepared for what this year will roll out. However, businesses who are agile and “fit” enough to adapt quickly to changes as well as resilient enough are those who continue to thrive despite challenging circumstances.

Southeast Asia is estimated to be the fastest growing regions for data centre, specifically its data usage growth, according to a 2020 joint study by Digital Realty and Eco-Business. A 2020 Market research by ReportLinker reveals the data centre market in Malaysia is growing and likely to reach revenues of over USD 800 million by 2025. Malaysia is expected to gain increased traction for data centre investments in facilitating greenfield developments.

It comes to no surprise when we hear organisations discuss their plans to enhance their data centre infrastructure with technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and focus on automation to improve uptime while controlling costs – all of which are important for companies to drive operational efficiency and business resiliency. There is no doubt that the data centre industry is undergoing changes to ensure that its infrastructure is functioning at an optimal as part of ensuring business continuity and growth.

Here are a few of the emerging trends seen playing out in 2021, as a result of the rise of digital acceleration and automation.

Heavy adoption of edge computing, Wi-Fi 6, and 5G in Industry 4.0 manufacturing

The pandemic highlighted the need to have local manufacturing in emergency situations for core staples, personal protection gear, life-saving equipment, and vaccines. The largest barrier to local manufacturing has been the desire to minimise costs and the availability of skilled people. People have traditionally played key roles in the entire manufacturing operation including procurement, scheduling, quality control, etc. The key enabler to local manufacturing is automation – and the Malaysian government has called this out as an imperative in the new normal. They recently rolled out the Smart Automation Grant to encourage the adoption of automation for industry players, particularly local manufacturers and service providers. According to the local Ministry of International Trade and Industry, the grant will assist and incentivise the small and medium enterprises and mid-tier companies to futureproof their operations, production and trade channels with technology.

On the other hand, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G bring massive capacity, solid reliability, and “un-tethered” flexibility in order for machines to be totally connected and all sensors to share data constantly in near real-time to optimise and improve production. Edge computing will be used to harness and process all information for machine and process optimisation. IT/OT convergence is one of the most over-used terms these days, but it will actually come to life in Industry 4.0.

Contactless, touch-free world emerges

Pre-pandemic, the world was well on its way to automating public transportation ticketing and boarding, hotel check-in, and food ordering and preparation. Some of these activities involved “touch screens” that are now taboo in today’s society. The way to a “touch-free” world could leverage smartphones, but more elegant solutions will use voice commands and facial detection or facial recognition with integrated video analytics (IVA). Video in general is data heavy and high-definition video stresses networks and IT. While some compression techniques and data flow processes are available, the number of applications in these environments will continue to increase – think integration into contract tracing for example. In addition, AI algorithms are being used in these applications to determine the mood people are in and their mannerisms, and to predict what their next actions will be – also known as indicators of behaviour (IOBs). Processing power and data storage is needed to support these applications and a local edge micro data centre is a logical choice.

Data centres become more lights out

An unintended enlightenment occurred as a result of the pandemic. Many companies relied on on-site data centre support staff and soon realised they had limited or no visibility into their data centre operations when stay-at-home orders were implemented. At a minimum, companies will upgrade their DCIM and ITIM systems to give adequate levels of visibility. Secondly, companies will design and deploy systems where they can perform maintenance and upgrade functions remotely or through automation.  Thirdly, a growing number of maintenance upgrade functions are being performed by robots. One example is called ROME where the robot manages cable connections, plucking components and reinserting.

IT workload automation scales up

Not only does IT workload automation ensure processes, workflows, and tasks across operating systems run efficiently and without constant human intervention on premise, it will scale across large scale hybrid computing architectures. Operations will set conditions and workloads will automatically migrate to different physical servers potentially anywhere in that data centre architecture.

“LEO” communication for edge computing lands

Low earth orbiting (LEO) satellites could be the next generation of communications technology and it’s closer than you think (literally and figuratively). The ability to “cut the cord” on land-based communications opens tremendous possibilities for edge computing data centre deployments. One of the major challenges for edge deployments is access to a highspeed network connection, especially in remote areas. But, when 12,000 low orbiting satellites are in space, this problem goes away.

Predicting an influential new year by advancements in automation

The events of 2020 certainly catapulted IT and network capacity upgrades in order to adapt. As we progress into 2021, the focus will be on innovating computing architectures and networks to drive higher performance and efficiencies through automation. This digital transformation and automation are exciting, and new innovations could provide additional advancements, setting the stage for even more possibilities in 2022.