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Time for Hyperscale Edge Data Centres

Around 75 per cent of data resides outside India. Push for localisation requires data to be stored within the country
Anand Agarwal | Print Edition: July 26, 2020
Time for Hyperscale Edge Data Centres
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Technology has radically transformed the world we live in today. A borderless world is now a reality - with more than 4.6 billion people - 59 per cent of the world population - now connected through the Internet. India is rapidly picking up pace, with more than 500 million people, almost 40 per cent of the population, having access to the Internet. We have come a long way with technology adoption, and yet this is just the beginning.

Adapting to the New Order

The global pandemic has made the shift to digital permanent. For the majority of organisations across the globe, digital disruption is the new normal. As the world adapts to these changes, we are seeing substantial shifts in usage patterns and traffic in five key ways: a) from predominantly entertainment to enterprises and cloud-use cases, b) from download only to symmetric uploads and downloads - boosted by video conferencing, c) from asynchronous to real-time use cases, requiring instantaneous response time, and d) from office networks to ever-increasing home networks usage e) increase in traffic by 60-70 per cent in the past few months. These shifts are permanent - people behaviour, lifestyle and business models will have to adapt to this change. We are already seeing this happen - organisations like TCS, Twitter and Optus announcing permanent shift to work from home and collaborative tools like Blue Jeans, Slack, Zoom, and WebEx becoming the new mode of communication. Every member of the family now needs a dedicated Internet connection, it's a basic necessity to perform daily tasks. All of this is leading to a sudden upsurge in traffic to home networks, but today's network is barely able to manage this demand.

Going Beyond Telecom

In the past two decades, Telecom has had a good run. With only one application - voice, telcos were concerned only with connectivity and one asset - spectrum. With digital, the paradigm has shifted. In digital, there are multitude of applications, ranging from video conferencing, to online education, to cloud-based collaboration and real-time gaming. This is only a start with future applications based on deep learning, asynchronous driving etc. In this new paradigm, the digital service providers host, manages and services these applications to the consumer. Beyond only connectivity, it is about data compute, storage and transfer. And, in digital, the converged infrastructure of fibre and wireless, of compute and connectivity becomes ubiquitous. In this new phase of digital, service providers like Jio Platforms, are changing focus to content, data and applications, while tower and fibre infrastructure become a separate firm that shares its infrastructure with other providers.

The Network Architecture

A whole new architecture for the next phase is evolving - the New Digital Network. It is converged and fibre-rich, and offers ubiquitous connectivity. It is software-driven and disaggregated, where virtual network functions replace single-function network hardware. These virtual functions allow for centralised cloud-based control, with decentralised storage, compute and memory. They allow the digital network to dynamically transform to needs of the end-users. They also become more accessible as they use simpler open-source hardware and software elements, which can be made available by an ecosystem of integrated network specialists and technology leaders. This new, Next-Gen Digital Network will empower an affordable network for everyone.

Data Localisation And Data Centres

With all experiences becoming digital, data security and seamless digital experience are becoming critical. Data localisation is crucial for this to happen. It is also a catalyst for data centre adoption in India. Indias push for data localisation requires certain data to be stored within the country. Around 75 per cent of this data resides outside the country, and to localise this data, we need to build a strong digital infrastructure. With growing digital consumption patterns like social media, online gaming, streaming, e-commerce, online education, total Internet hits, hyperscale Edge data centres are a must. High computation and storage, resilient networking-infrastructure and optimised power usage are critical elements of hyperscale Edge data centres. These new-age data centres will need to be close to the users, and hence a large number will be required in every city, in addition to the master hyperscale centres. The Edge data centres will become 5G radio locations, which provide compute and storage along with connectivity, and will become the core fulcrum of Artificial Intelligence and cloud enterprise applications, while being secure and localised.

Our government's digitisation drive and development of Smart Cities are fuelling demand for Edge data centres in the country. In the coming few years, we will continue to see a huge acceptance of Edge data centres as data is analysed and processed near the location where it is generated. We are set to become one of the largest global destinations for colocation data centre set-ups by leveraging cloud computing architecture.

Core investments in digital infrastructure

The top four economies - the US, China, Japan and Germany - are investing 1-2 per cent of GDP each year on digital infrastructure while India is investing at a much lower rate. Amidst Covid-19, the need for Digital Infrastructure and Data Centres has become essential - finding its place with necessities like food, education and healthcare.

Digital infra development and data centre set-up will continue to require sustained investment by the government and private players. There are many ways to drive this digital infrastructure creation. The recommended model would be one that has the best of government leadership and private entities' expertise. This model would enable speedy planning and decision making, initial allocation of budget and deliver tangible results much faster. The desired final output - time-bound creation of digital infrastructure - is fibre-based tower backhaul, localised data centres and fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and enterprise along with rural broadband connectivity.

Opportunity for India toBuild an Edge

India has started adopting digital infrastructure, but now the time has come to speed up the process and aggressively invest in building digital infrastructure and data centres that are future-ready. This is the time for India to leapfrog. We are blessed with the world's largest democracy and with more than 500 million people connected online, we are poised to become a global technology powerhouse.

Now is an opportunity of a lifetime for us - to lead the way by transforming and reinventing as the shift to digital is permanent.

(The writer is Group CEO and Whole-Time Director,Sterlite Technologies Ltd.)

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