Council Post: Five Trends Driving The Booming Data Center Economy In 2024 (And Why Investors Are Taking Notice) (2024)

Andrew Schaap is CEO and Board Member of Aligned Data Centers.

AI's rapid rise keeps on grabbing headlines—and rightly so. However, there's an often-overlooked corner of the tech sector that's just as important and is also seeing explosive growth. I'm talking about the data center industry, the backbone of AI and just about everything else digital.

In January 2023, McKinsey & Company projected the industry would grow 10% a year through 2030, with global spending on the construction of new facilities hitting $49 billion. That forecast sounds low to me. After all, data centers have upended the plodding 2% to 3% growth model for utilities, and the data center hyperscale market is projected to grow 20% annually. No wonder investors are paying attention.

Data centers may fly under the radar, but their digital infrastructure is the lifeblood of today's economy, powering everything from search engines to e-commerce to, yes, AI. For those who might be unfamiliar with the industry, here are five trends that will keep driving its expansion and evolution in 2024.

1. The AI gold rush boosts data center demand, but a shakeout looms.

AI is everywhere, and data center providers—whose real estate and digital infrastructure are the picks and shovels of that gold rush—are backstopping it. Look for the stampede to intensify in 2024.


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A vivid example of AI-driven demand is Nvidia, whose graphics processing units power the vast majority of AI applications. The chip maker is expected to deliver 100,000 AI server platforms this year, but total units shipped could surge to 1.5 million by 2027. Combined, it would use more than half as much energy as today's total consumption by data centers, according to one estimate.

However, all that glitters isn't gold. There will be winners and losers in a frothy AI market. In 2024, the savviest digital infrastructure players will stay sober-minded about prospective clients. Is that AI firm the real deal—and does it have a business model that will pay its data center bill?

2. Cloud and AI compete for data center bandwidth.

AI might be hogging the data center spotlight, but demand from cloud services providers (CSPs) will remain a dominant force in 2024. Cloud adoption has risen more than expected in recent years, driving ever-larger deals with data centers.

Meanwhile, as large enterprises adopt AI and other digital tools, they'll take anything not already gobbled up by cloud and AI players. No wonder demand for data center capacity began outstripping supply back in late 2022.

As AI and cloud grow side-by-side, the lines have blurred. For example, because all CSPs participate in AI, their data center needs for it and cloud are mixing.

That poses a challenge for providers. To meet growing AI demands, CSPs sometimes change the usage specified in their contracts. Providers that roll with the punches will fare better.

3. International data center expansion ramps up.

Data center providers and their clients will see more of the world this year. With traditional tech hubs squeezed for capacity, customers who are less sensitive to latency—how long it takes for data to travel from one place to another—are looking at other options. For example, a client specializing in AI training might find a new home in an emerging tech center or even abroad.

That's helping drive the industry's global expansion. With McKinsey noting the U.S. accounts for about 40% of the global data center market, Latin America, Europe and Asia-Pacific have all seen substantial recent growth.

4. Sustainability becomes more than a buzzword.

Data centers are drawing attention for their energy and water use, which will only keep rising because of increased demand. It's one reason forward-looking providers aren't shying away from sustainability. Instead, they're taking action to shrink their environmental footprint.

At my company, across all of our U.S. data centers, we've matched 100% of our power with renewable energy. We also use renewable and recyclable materials. In addition, we're reducing our energy and water consumption with the help of a proprietary cooling system that can run without the water data centers typically need to operate such equipment.

Expect to see more such efforts in 2024, as pressure from customers, investors and regulators turns sustainability into a competitive advantage. One powerful motivator is the looming U.S. climate change regulations that will force companies to disclose carbon emissions.

5. Innovation keeps the industry moving forward.

Unprecedented demand for digital infrastructure is driving technological innovation. Customers are seeking to optimize efficiency and flexibility in a tight market, and that's increasingly pushing providers to develop new solutions and approaches. This includes everything from leveraging alternate power sources for added reliability to embracing the technological and infrastructure changes needed to accommodate AI.

Liquid cooling—vital for high-powered AI chips—is one example. The most efficient systems integrate with a data center's existing air-cooling equipment, making retrofits unnecessary and allowing hybrid cooling. Thanks to their modular design, they're also highly scalable, so customers can expand to meet future needs on the same premises.

Rising customer demand for higher density is also propelling innovation in both data center design and technology. Spurred on by growing computing power, clients are looking to pack more of it into a smaller space. Providers that have built or are building with higher density in mind can respond faster to these needs.

Where does all of this activity leave data centers? Public and private investors are bullish on them. Mergers and acquisitions involving data centers totaled $48 billion in 2022. However, that doesn't mean data center providers are on easy street. The industry may be growing at a furious pace, but investors are picking their spots.

Providers best positioned to attract capital in 2024 offer innovative technology that lets clients pivot and scale as computing power advances. That innovation makes a company's services stickier, drives additional revenue and creates a competitive moat—rewarding investors.

Like Apple or Nvidia, the best data center providers are building an ecosystem, not just a product.

Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?

I'm Andrew Schaap, a seasoned professional deeply immersed in the data center industry, with a comprehensive understanding of its intricate dynamics and rapid evolution. My background as the CEO and Board Member of Aligned Data Centers has provided me with firsthand experience in navigating the challenges and opportunities within this crucial sector.

Now, let's delve into the concepts mentioned in the article, showcasing my expertise:

  1. AI-Driven Data Center Demand:

    • The article highlights the pivotal role of data centers in supporting the AI gold rush. Drawing upon my expertise, I can further emphasize the symbiotic relationship between AI and data centers. For instance, the reference to Nvidia underscores the significance of graphics processing units (GPUs) in powering AI applications. I can elaborate on how the exponential growth in AI applications is influencing data center infrastructure requirements.
  2. Cloud and AI Bandwidth Competition:

    • As an expert, I can explain the intertwined nature of AI and cloud services in driving data center demand. The evolving landscape, where large enterprises adopt both AI and cloud solutions, necessitates flexibility from data center providers. I can elaborate on how providers need to adapt to changing usage specifications in contracts and navigate the challenges posed by the blurred lines between AI and cloud computing.
  3. International Data Center Expansion:

    • Drawing on my expertise, I can expand on the global expansion trends in the data center industry. The article mentions the shift of clients to emerging tech centers abroad. I can provide insights into how companies are strategically choosing locations based on factors like latency sensitivity and capacity constraints in traditional tech hubs.
  4. Sustainability in Data Centers:

    • The article touches on the growing importance of sustainability in data centers. Leveraging my knowledge, I can provide examples of sustainable practices within the industry, such as the use of renewable energy and innovative cooling systems. I can also discuss the business motivations behind these sustainability efforts, including the impending U.S. climate change regulations.
  5. Technological Innovation in Data Centers:

    • Being well-versed in the latest technological advancements, I can elaborate on the innovations driving the data center industry forward. Liquid cooling, as mentioned in the article, is a prime example. I can explain its significance for high-powered AI chips and how modular design enhances scalability. Additionally, I can discuss the broader trends in data center design and technology driven by customer demands for higher density and efficiency.

In conclusion, my extensive knowledge and hands-on experience uniquely position me to provide a comprehensive understanding of the trends and dynamics shaping the data center industry, as outlined in the article.

Council Post: Five Trends Driving The Booming Data Center Economy In 2024 (And Why Investors Are Taking Notice) (2024)
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