This article was first published by AFR.com. Author: Jonathan Porter
If 2020 was the year of the pandemic, 2021 could well be remembered as the year businesses discovered the importance of harnessing data and bending it to their will for the recovery.
The disruption of the pandemic has played a central role in data generation over the past year, growing by 63 per cent every month, according to the International Data Group (IDG). The figure is expected to compound exponentially as 5G and billions of IoT devices come online.
This is where a concept called “data gravity” begins to rear its head.
“Data gravity is the single biggest challenge facing companies today,” says Mark Smith, Asia-Pacific managing director of Digital Realty, one of the world’s largest providers of data centres, business colocation and cloud interconnection services.
“We’re expecting a compounded annual growth rate of 139 per cent for data gravity intensity, which gives you a feel of the explosion, not just of data, but of accessing data across the world.
“It’s clearly a key megatrend that we’re seeing globally.”
Data gravity is the tendency of data (stored in any format, a data lake for example) to attract applications, services, and analytics, which creates even more data.
This explosion of data gravity – and the impacts of latency – will be the focus of businesses in the coming decade, Smith says.
Anyone who is old enough to remember the blurry sibilance that went with logging on to the internet through a modem connected to a copper wire landline already knows all about latency. Basically, the higher the latency, the slower your connection.
While lowering latency is a must, data gravity can be a blessing for your business, provided you are physically astride the growing data lake of information on which you depend for your livelihood. In fact, with its exponential growth this data “lake” may be tending towards a data ocean or even a data planet, to extend the astronomical analogy.
Enter the data centre, a place where businesses can be physically close to the data that is their lifeblood, but also the epicentre of an entire digital ecosystem.
By locating their operations in a data centre, businesses attract more applications, services and other data the way a planet’s gravity pulls in moons, asteroids and comets.
To that end Digital Realty has announced plans to boost its data centre presence in Australia six-fold, with the announcement it will build two new linked campuses in Sydney’s west. Once complete, will take its total investment in the nation to $2.7 billion.
The facilities will grow Digital Realty’s total Australian data centre footprint to nearly 300 megawatts, a massive boost from the 50-megawatt powerhouse the US-based giant REIT already controls across five centres in Sydney and Melbourne.
“A multi-tenant data centre that is large, and that can scale with the increasing needs of an enterprise is an ideal location to really focus a company’s data centre of gravity,” says Smith.
“Once they’re in a neutral multi-tenant data centre, businesses can look at how they will be connected through cloud on-ramps and the like, to the cloud, to applications run by the enterprise, as well as to the edge – to end-user devices and the end users.”
The company has drawn on the depth of its hard-won experience across 45+ metros globally to formulate its Data Gravity Index, which uses metrics on data growth, storage, available bandwidth and latency to provide a valuable tool for business.
“The Gravity Index also illustrates some of the challenges that enterprises are facing in Australia,” he says.
“It’s intended to get businesses thinking about the challenges that they’re facing today and will be facing in the future. If they don’t aggressively adopt a new data-centric architecture, it really inhibits enterprise workflow performance.
Smith says that improved data security and easier regulatory compliance are additional benefits of properly managing data gravity.
Another factor at work is the acceleration of digitisation that has come with COVID.
“Increasingly, customers are expecting a digitally enabled experience,” Smith says. “And one that works well.”
So far, he says, Australian businesses have been at the leading edge of managing the explosion of data gravity and the challenges it brings.
“Australia is really a thought leader, an early adopter, and a very sophisticated consumer of technology both at the consumer level and the enterprise level,” Smith says.
Based on Digital Realty’s latest Data Gravity Index, both Sydney and Melbourne make it into the top six, he says.
“So, without question, most of those key markets in Australia are very much aligned to these overall global megatrends.”
The advent of 5G, and billions of additional IoT devices coming online will deepen to the data gravity well, he says.
“And we’re still at the very beginning of that. Things like self-driving cars will need support and predictive analytics, and they are a perfect example of why latency matters.
“When you’re driving around you can’t wait to know whether to stop or go across an intersection.”
Smith says the benefits of the data centre ecosystem begin to really take off when tenants connect with each other.
“These communities of interest look to within the data centre, and cross-connect to our other customers. That creates increasing value within that piece of real estate, within that data centre.”
Asked if Digital Realty is a data play, or a real estate play, Smith says: “The answer is, yes.”
“I think we’re well-named Digital Realty. Because we really are the intersection of real estate and technology.”
To understand the dynamics of Data Gravity across industries and metros including Sydney and Melbourne, download a complimentary copy of the Data Gravity Index here.