Amazon and Microsoft are prominent among corporations building hyperscale data centers to support still expanding public cloud-based web services businesses. Already, there are 171 hyperscale data centers in the US, and expansions in Dallas and Atlanta have recently been announced. Given projects such as those, you might think that data center is a growth business. You’d be wrong.

  • Physical plant is not growing much
  • For years, data growth has been absorbed by technical advances in storage media
  • A rapid migration to NAND is underway
  • Data transfer advances represent the new horizon in capacity expansion

A data center is a climate-controlled, access-controlled building housing servers and communications devices. In early data center days, bigger corporations built and maintained their own data centers, while those with lesser computing needs used small, local shared facilities. Companies small and large have been migrating away from using their own servers to using massive cloud facilities.

Although the change from private to public data centers has been significant, the net change in data center square footage isn’t much. According to estimates, the US has 1.94 billion square feet of data center space in 2018. This figure is flat year-over-year and up at a 4% average annual rate over the last five years. Just as square footage growth is minimal, the electrical power usage for data centers has changed even less. Power consumption by data centers has grown at a 2% rate over the last five years; it represents 2% of total US electrical consumption.

So, with 4% square footage growth and 2% power consumption growth, one could say that data centers aren’t really growing much on a physical basis. However, looking at exabytes of data stored in these facilities, the growth rate was 41% in 2016 and 37% in 2017. Said another way, the amount of data stored in the domestic data centers has nearly doubled in the last two years without the physical space or power demand changing much. IDC expects data to double every year for ten years starting now.

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