Ever since the earliest days of the industrial revolution, society has been leveraging technology to find new ways of doing more – faster, better and more efficiently.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) represents yet another significant step forward as businesses harness new technologies to process data, in the same way that 18th century pioneers tapped steam and water power to revolutionise agriculture, transport and manufacturing.
Data drives machine learning, decision support, process automation and other new techniques that characterise the 4IR. But unlocking the full potential of these techniques requires fundamental changes to the way we handle data and the digital foundation platforms that supports it - Data Centres.
A revolution built on change
To understand how we need to change, we need to consider how industry has evolved.
Enhanced over decades by the second and third industrial revolutions – through mass production and ever more sophisticated electronics – production processes have been primed for the 4IR that we are experiencing today.
The success of previous industrial revolutions relied on breaking down business requirements, then developing specific technologies and processes to meet those requirements. For example, complex supply chains were developed to support the assembly of hundreds of components into a finished vehicle.
These production-line approaches have revolutionised the way we manufacture products, but their scope has been limited by the fact that each production line has had to be designed specifically for each product.
The Third Industrial Revolution (3IR) saw robotic-driven processes improve quality and production speed by repeating specific tasks, over and over again. However, these industrial processes were engineered for mass production rather than adaptability and business flexibility.
The 4IR changes all that, by applying innovations from decades of collecting and analysing ever-increasing amounts of data from production processes, sensors and customers to 3IR technologies.
This data provides the raw materials for the 4IR, in the same way that earlier revolutions depended on water, steel, electricity and silicon.
Yet making the most of that data requires a similar change in focus. In the 4IR, data-driven processes are being designed not to perform a function, but to learn how to deliver an outcome. The means of delivering that outcome will vary over time, based on changes in data, market requirements, resource availability and so on.
Technological advancements such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 3D printing have supported this change by allowing businesses to develop systems and production processes that are no longer constrained by the parameters within which they were designed.
For example, if a new car part is needed, it can be produced on the spot using a 3D printer rather than relying on a distant partner to ship it.
For this reason, the 4IR can be considered to be an interactive revolution – responsive to the needs of its stakeholders, but also proactive in iteratively directing innovation over time.
A revolution built on data and a new reality
One of the core facets of this new revolution is how it will 'affect the very essence of our human experience', as Klaus Schwab the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, put it so eloquently. We can see this already today. Think of your own children, or nieces and nephews, they are growing with technologies that only a decade ago would seem like some futuristic fantasy - touch-screens, augmented reality, virtual reality and soon holograms.
IDC predicts that the market for Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality headsets will increase from an estimated 13.7 million units shipped in 2017 to 81.2 million units by 2021(!)
Have no doubt, all aspects of how we work, live and play are changing and in ways that new generations will grasp at speeds which some of us will struggle to fathom.
How did you learn the periodic table at school....?
Underpinning all this change is the tsunami of Data which is upon us. How much Data exactly? Well, we are having to create more and more terms to just keep track, that's how much. First a kilobyte, then megabyte, gigabyte, terabyte, petabyte, exabyte, zettabyte and now?
A yottabyte. How big is that? 10^24, in other words...
1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 Bytes
The amazing thing is that whichever technology company or research analyst you speak to, they will all say that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Depending on which research company you read we could have 25 billion to 50 billion connected devices by 2020… Now consider that "a billion sensors would create 400 exabytes of data a month," (Drew Henry, SVP at Arm Holdings), then you can begin to fathom the sheer size of this Data sea underpinning the 4IR. The infrastructure needed to accommodate this new tsunami? Well based on the number of Servers in the world today, we could be needing as many as 400 million new ones (likely more) by 2020+ to just keep up with demand.
Building a platform for revolution
Business leaders already see the urgency of this trend: a recent Forbes survey noted that 72 percent of global CEOs believe the next three years will be more critical for their industries than the last 50 years.
Meeting those challenges is demanding significant and rapid change. Just as they have progressed through earlier industrial revolutions by optimising their supply chains and distribution networks, businesses in the 4IR will need to build expansive, flexible data platforms that support their changing business requirements over time.
The virtualisation of the data centre has been a key facilitator for these platforms, since it has progressively enabled applications to be deployed in virtual, portable containers that are infinitely reproducible and customisable. Cloud services have built on this by delivering readily accessible capabilities such as AI, data analytics and software-defined networking (SDN).
Where yesterday’s data centres were focused on hosting large numbers of discrete computers, today’s data centres are built around common infrastructure in which application, storage, compute and communications capabilities can be instantly changed as business requirements change.
Because of this flexibility, data centres can support the 4IR by increasingly functioning not as islands of availability and reliability, but as highly interconnected nodes in increasingly global networks that provide the engine room for the revolution.
The rise of the Connected Campus
Digital Realty (DLR) has been positioning itself well for this industrial change with a global network of close to 200 data centres across the globe – including Asia-Pacific campuses in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and Japan – these data hubs leverage ubiquitous, on-demand interconnectivity to support rapid business expansion in any direction.
As the world's largest, by physical size, data centre operator and owner, with 32+ million rentable square feet of DC Space, DLR services 2,300+ customers ranging from TeleCommunications/Network, Cloud, Social Media, Financial Services, Manufacturing, Energy, Healthcare and Consumer Goods organisations.
The nature of the solution needed by clients is changing.
The requirement now is for data centres that are closer to end users, offering a low-latency, high-reliability business platform that provides hyperscale capabilities to support businesses of any size.
By functioning as secure ‘interconnection centres’ that are shared among network service providers, cloud service providers and supply chain partners, these data centres provide a flexible platform that allows workloads to be spread across geographical locations, with links to multi-cloud environments that ensure business architectures aren’t constrained by the limits of any one facility.
Eighty-two per cent of customers have said they want multi-cloud interconnection, linked with connected campuses, Internet gateways and high-density data centres that allow them to stop thinking about infrastructure and focus on reinventing themselves for the 4IR.
Understanding this fast changing global landscape and the new technology platforms needed to support it is a core goal of DigitalCentre2020. A consortium of data centre providers, cloud and managed service providers, Internet exchanges, content distribution network providers and others that are dedicated to providing the platform that will underpin the 4IR.
As this change continues to take hold, today's data centre providers will become the Digital Centres of the 4IR. And just as previous revolutions changed the way we work and function as a society, the 4IR will lay the foundations for a future that is more productive, responsive, optimised and efficient than ever before.