Data centers face a huge increase in compute demand while looking at a precipitous drop in trained IT personnel. Add to those factors executive demand for changes in how data centers are powered, and the stage is set for shifts that could leave server farms, central storage, and enterprise network stacks open to cyberattacks.
These are some of the points raised in a new report looking at the data center in 2025. The report, sponsored by Vertiv, is an update to a report first issued in 2014. In the original report, the data center brain drain was highlighted, with only 56% of survey participants expected to still be in the industry by 2025, and with retirement as the main reason for employees leaving.
But as the new report shows, the problem is much bigger. While the skills shortage in cybersecurity has been well-documented, it's also an overall problem in IT. These shortages in trained IT professionals are looming as the industry sees a change in the way that data centers are structured - a change that may be as large as the shift to cloud computing. Enterprise computing, the new 2019 report says, is heading to the edge.
"Edge computing" in this context is computing that has been pushed closer to users and devices rather than delivering all compute services from central locations. Among organizations who have edge sites today or expect to have edge sites in 2025, more than half (53%) expect the number of edge sites they support to grow by at least 100% between now and then, with 20% expecting a 400% or more increase, according to the report.
Overall, survey participants said that they expect their total number of edge computing sites to grow 226% between now and 2025.
"The pressure on the edge has pushed the requirement for understanding IT applications out into places that that it didn't exist just one generation ago," says Peter Panfil, vice president of global power at Vertiv. "We're going through this generational change and at the same time the industry is undergoing fairly significant changes in the way it's gonna be able to deploy its workforce."
One way organizations are responding to the lack of trained professionals is by increasing the machine intelligence and automation capacity of different components in the data center. "If it's not a smart cluster, it's a smart rack, or a smart row, or a smart aisle where they can have complete flexibility in dropping 'IT-capability delivery systems' into places where before they just didn't have them," Panfil says.
Concerns about whether these more intelligent systems might become an attack vector for the enterprise has had an impact on how the intelligence is deployed. "For example, we offer a feature where we monitor the health of the of the UPS system," he says. "We've got customers who say, 'Nope we are not going to let you even connect to the network.' So the your system has to be self-contained and self optimizing."
"More and more of our customers are saying that a connection into the system is a way for people to get in and fiddle with it in a nefarious way," Panfil says. And that means hard limits on the connectivity physical infrastructure components are allowed.
Fortunately, there are physical infrastructure components that fall into what Panfil calls the "blinking and breathing" part of the operation, akin to the human body's autonomous systems that do things like breathe and blink without conscious intervention.
Even in complex situations like those involving percentages of green power at different times of day, or cooling operations based on ambient temperatures and moment-by-moment energy costs, the data center's physical infrastructure has to be on a self-contained blinking and breathing basis to secure it.
Security-conscious IT executives are in a bind: cloud-based control and automation systems could provide solutions to the functional gaps left by the growing skills shortage. But the network connections to critical infrastructure in the data center are, to many, unacceptable risks. The question is whether the self-contained solutions can provide the proper balance between function and security.