The shift towards the edge

LCL Data Center

The data center world is evolving as the amount of data in the world is constantly increasing. New technologies like the Internet of Things, blockchain, 5G, Artificial Intelligence require a different approach. These technologies require rapid response and real time analysis. Extra data processing and storage capacity is thus needed very close to the source of the data. That’s what edge computing is about: storing, processing and analysing data as close as possible to the point where it is generated.

The shift towards the edge means a shift towards decentralised data centers. Data transfer to a centralised hyperscale cloud data center sometimes just takes up too much time. Pushing computation and analytical capabilities closer to the edge reduces traffic and can reduce round-trip delay in sending data for analysis to and from a centralised cloud platform. This results in better security, improved availability, more privacy and increased resiliency. Every city or region will need their own data center, so this will require a lot of extra data center space.

Edge processing can raise network speed, reduce latency and help with capacity issues. Failures or congestion in networks may cause serious problems for machines, devices or user experience. Think about Pokémon Go: people all over the world were walking around with their smartphones trying to catch ‘em all. Who would like it if the connection goes down at the exact moment they’re catching a rare Pokémon. The same goes for smart watches: the output is needed immediately, so there’s no time to send all the data to the cloud to be analysed.

Another example are autonomous cars. These self-driving vehicles will produce an enormous amount of data and will exchange information with each other. If one car detects a pothole in the road, it sends this information to the next car, which will adept the suspension at the exact location of the pothole. Processing data like this must happen within less than a microsecond or accidents will happen. That’s why the processing needs to happen very close to the point of usage. Availability is key here.

The data center world is evolving, but so is LCL. We are ready for the shift towards the edge. We’re connected in three cities in Belgium: Antwerp, Aalst and Brussels. Our data centers are scalable and flexible and have all the necessary components for security, cooling, energy … already in place. We’re striving for maximum availability and reliability.

Blockchain and data center: a happy marriage?

Blockchain is the new buzz. It’s designed to make transactions transparent and elimate the requirement of trust among individuals for simple transactions. Blockchain has a huge potential to create massive social change. And we ask ourselves, what role can we as a datacenter play in blockchain? Is it a happy marriage?

To be honest, we don’t know. Blockchain requires more powerful processors to handle transactions, which as a consequence requires much more electricity and does not render blockchain technology energy efficient. What we do know is that as a data center we strive to be as energy efficient as possible. At LCL, we don’t plan to start becoming less energy efficient, especially not after all the effort we’ve put in to achieve just the opposite.
Where we do see ourselves play a major role is in the connectivity. Since blockchain saves a copy of the entire transaction history on the computer of every user, it means that data needs to be exchanged constantly between all these copies, making sure the information is kept up to date. And where does all traffic need to pass through? Right, a data center. Particularly (at LCL) via the meet-me-room. Telecom operators will play a major role in Blockchain, as connections will be key. Data centers will become more and more a node of internet and other traffic. And as bandwidth is multiplied by 1.5 ever year without blockchain anyway, there will be a massive need for extra bandwidth when blockchain would become generally accepted. In this respect, we, LCL, see a bright future for data centers; especially given that at LCL we house up to 38 carriers in our three data centers. On top of the fact that everyone’s evolving towards data center outsourcing anyway, as the security (and other) requirements make it very inefficient and expensive to store your servers in your own data center or server room.

So, are data centers and blockchain a happy marriage?

Yes, definitely for data exchange. However, not when it comes down to energy efficiency. At least not until they’ve made blockchain more energy efficient, something I’ve read they’re looking into. And something we look forward to, because we surely don’t want to abandon our ISO 14001 certification.

Laurens van Reijen
Managing Director, LCL Data Centers

PS: The MIT Technology Review of MAY/JUNE 2018 has a full issue covering Blockchain, a must read for everyone interested.