This year marks the 30th anniversary of Sir Tim Berners-Lee's creation of the world wide web (WWW). We tend to overlook how far it has come since its inception, but it is undeniable that the impact the web has made on the world has been unprecedented. The only thing more exciting than what has happened thus far is what is to come in the next 30 years.
At this year's annual International Telecoms Week (ITW), industry leaders gather to discuss how digital transformation will change customer experience; it is upon us and executives understand that data underpins this evolution and growth. Every business across every industry must embrace this digital shift to remain competitive, generate innovation, and to continue to profit and innovate. The transformation is being fuelled by customer demand; in a digital economy, people want access to services 24x7.
The three acronyms that will continue to drive digital transformation
Artificial intelligence (AI) is on every news and IT agenda, and we are starting to see it create real world impact. Shell, Amazon, and Adidas are examples: Shell deploys AI to improve workplace safety; Amazon has incorporated robots within its fulfilment centres to achieve efficiencies; and Adidas has embedded AI into its shoe manufacturing in Germany.
In the next 30 years it will continue to make industries faster, cheaper to operate and create new opportunities for businesses. It will turn every retailer into a customer's personal shopping experience, while eliminating wastage in its supply chain: news organisations will apply it to fact checking and fighting fake news; and farms will automate crop health monitoring and response, auto-deploying irrigation based on soil conditions, not just historical data.
Manufacturing is already giving us an idea of how that future could look. In steel factories, AI analyses metal compositions and optimises furnaces to create the perfect smelting conditions, and Adidas' Speedfactory builds trainers from raw materials and knits high-end flynet sneakers coordinated and monitored by AI.
Beyond the production line, factories are using sensor data to predict maintenance needs, preventing breakdown, and automotive manufacturers have mixed AI with machine vision to sense defects in parts. End to end, AI is already helping manufacturers minimise cost and maximise opportunity. In the next 30 years, that will become standard.
HoloLens 2 stole the show at Mobile World Congress this year by being both a great product and by focusing on business use of augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality.
The benefits of AR will be substantial in the next decade, let alone in 30 years' time. Today, we talk about it playing roles in surgery, and Harley Davidson uses it to help customers design motorbikes on the shop floor. All are fixed location, isolated scenarios, because that is what the technology can deliver. However, the technology is evolving to the point where soon we will be able to create what Yale computer scientist David Gelernter calls 'Mirrorworld' – continuous AR and mixed reality (MR) that’s accessed from any AR/MR device. You lay an AR arrow on the floor in HoloLens and an hour later an iPhone camera will still see it, or you see a dinosaur stomp by in your Magic Leap and so does someone else, ten minutes later and a mile down the road.
The consumer opportunities for a continuous AR world are obvious – a computer game played out in the real world, or an immersive shopping experience. But it also has huge business potential. For example, in the Speedfactory, a 'digital twin' simulates the operations of each machine and predicts issues before they happen. A new level of AR could visually map those digital twins on to their real-world equivalent. It is far easier to find a faulty part when your headset makes it glow inside the machine. In retail, fashion brands could attach Mirrorworld tags to their clothes that pop up for interested viewers and link directly to an online store or mark out a route to the brand’s nearest physical store.
The possibilities are endless and probably unimaginable right now, but they are worth getting excited about.
Internet of things (IoT) is often referred to as the next big technological revolution, and this has massive implications for the way we live. Statista has predicted that by 2025, there will be 75.44 billion connected devices, up from 23.14 billion in 2018.
Technology companies are tooling up to lead the market – Samsung acquired SmartThings, a connected home company, and Nokia acquired Comptel, a data fabric and advanced IoT analytics company – but the full range of benefits that IoT can bring has not yet been unlocked. IoT devices are the nerve endings that will connect AI and AR to the physical world. For the sake of consistency, in the case of the previously mentioned Speedfactories, sensors already track machinery. Within the next decade, AR’s Mirrorworld will become a reality and real-world objects will be fully interactive within it.
As each of these technologies grow, so will the IoT.
What does it all mean for data centres?
This new ecosystem of intertwined technologies will put huge demand on data centres – imagine the compute needed to maintain a continuous AR world!
Thus begins the domino effect: high compute requires higher-end GPU chips and connectivity. To provide for those needs, data centres need to provide new cooling and power capabilities, all the while employing newer and more sophisticated sustainability technologies techniques to ensure tech becomes ever greener, while becoming ever more powerful.
It is not a wholesale redesign of data infrastructure, but these new technologies need new approaches and we are creating those now with an increasing emphasis on interconnection. And we will need to keep redesigning. When you look at the data centre as an enablement platform for digital transformation, you can see there is clear value in interconnection. High capacity and low latency interconnectivity allow for better performance.