Harness the 5G boom: Get your data center infrastructure ready

5G isn't just about network evolution. The new standard will create increased and new demands on your data infrastructure, and the time to plan for deployment is now.

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Illustration by Souda

The worldwide rollout of 5G is picking up steam. As more and more smartphones become 5G-capable, enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) will certainly be a driving factor for 5G deployments. Market research firm Gartner predicts more than 220 million 5G-capable mobile phones will be sold in 2020 -- representing about 12% of overall sales. The firm also predicts that market penetration will zoom to 489 million units in 2021. MacRumors reports that Apple is expected to shift 80 million 5G-equipped iPhone 12 devices in 2020 alone.

Additionally, analyst firm Grand View Research envisions the global 5G services market reaching US $41.48 billion by the end of 2020 and growing nearly 44% per year through 2027. McKinsey predicts the ultra-reliable low-latency communication made possible by 5G will drive machine-to-machine communications in a wide range of IoT applications, including smart manufacturing, smart city, smart energy, and connected health.

All of this brings us to the question, "Are you prepared?"

If the technology industry has learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it's that technology adoption calendars can be compressed in response to unprecedented demand. Many IT vendors have expressed the sentiment: "We've had to implement our five-year plan in five months."

While no one can predict the pandemic's long-term effects, it's a fair bet that mobile and remote computing are not going to contract. Further, as robotics-based solutions become viable, zero-contact alternatives to in-person activities, ultra-reliable machine-to-machine communication demand will grow.

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The important thing to keep in mind is that 5G and the rising need for autonomous and remote applications will not just spark increased demand for bandwidth; all other elements of IT infrastructure will feel the strain, as well. 

Storage demands -- both in centralized data lakes and at the edge, near applications -- will increase exponentially in order to store and forward increasing amounts of data. Compute demands will increase, as well, driven by increased adoption of AI and machine learning.

5G is linked inextricably with digital transformation. Since as McKinsey reports, digital transformation initiatives have accelerated by three to four years due to the pandemic, all aspects of data center infrastructure will experience new loads.

There's one more thing to consider: The cloud is far more diaphanous in a 5G world. Centralized data centers can't deliver results fast enough to keep up with last-mile demands. Instead, multi-access edge computing (MEC) sites -- that are located nearer to customers -- will create new levels of responsiveness. This, too, presents a considerable demand on IT infrastructure and on the time, ability, and resources of professional IT teams tasked with deployment.

Five key infrastructure-planning considerations

Because of the demands 5G puts on all aspects of the data center, infrastructure planning must not be an afterthought. Without proper planning and implementation operations run the risk of service interruptions or incurring sudden CAPEX due to unexpected upgrades, which can have a disproportionate impact on customer satisfaction, and therefore profits. Here are five key considerations necessary for preparing for a 5G deployment:


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1. You will need to deploy edge computing resources

Edge deployment has long been used by website caching operations to reduce latency when loading high-use image and video files. Multi-access edge computing (an ETSI-defined standard) extends this idea for many cloud-based applications.

Because 5G is so quick, the big bottleneck is now the time from centralized data centers to the radio access zone. As you prepare for 5G deployment, consider how to standardize and optimize rapid deployment of MEC locations throughout your operating regions.

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2. You will need to customize resource availability

Because effective 5G deployment decentralizes resources to a level previously unseen, the need to optimize resource availability for each MEC, data center, and radio zone becomes essential. To reduce excessive capital expenditure and unnecessary downtime, plan out expected usage requirements for everything from compute and storage demand, to power utilization and redundant UPS systems.

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3. You will need to handle the inevitable jump in power and cooling demand

What happens when you pump a lot more data through your pipes? What happens when you need to store lots more data and act on that data? You add servers, racks, and facilities, which bring a concomitant rise in power utilization. In a 451 Research study co-sponsored by Vertiv, 94% of telecom decision-makers planning 5G deployments indicated that they expected to increase energy consumption. This means you'll need to plan for increased power, increased power redundancy, and increased cooling.

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4. You will need to find ways to save energy

Staying with the topic of power concerns, if you don't want to be saddled with a huge jump in both CAPEX expenditures for power infrastructure and OPEX costs for all that power, you're going to need to be proactive about reducing your energy demands. Because the physics of energy transformation always demands a price in terms of energy loss and increased heat, reducing AC-to-DC conversion throughout your deployment will be a win. Look for new cooling techniques, particularly ways to utilize environmental resources to augment the power grid. You might also want to consider upgrading battery technology to higher-utilization technologies such as lithium-ion.

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5. You will need to manage many of these edge resources remotely

As 5G becomes more ubiquitous, those edge computing resources and MEC installations will need to be deployed to most communities and radio zones. It may not be practical to expect IT professionals to be on-site for each of these mini data centers. Therefore, remote management and monitoring will become essential. Sure, you'll need roving field service techs to maintain the hardware, but if you can enable IT management from anywhere, you'll not only save costs, you'll reduce the stress on valued personnel.


The time to plan is now

The logistics of 5G are different from those of previous cellular technologies, because the inherent data communication speed requires edge resources simply to keep data flowing without propagation delays.

All of this necessitates a re-think of how IT infrastructure is deployed. Large, centralized cloud data centers will still be needed, but 5G necessitates a dynamically evolving balance between centralized and decentralized resources. The clear conclusion is that data center infrastructure is as important in deployment planning as networking infrastructure. 

Learn more about Vertiv data center solutions.

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