Pandemic has driven up data center costs

As the pandemic began to make an impact in early 2020, it became clear that data center operators were going to have to invest more if they were to provide the services on which their customers were increasingly reliant. Short-term needs included protective equipment, deep cleaning and, it seemed likely, more spending to support extended shifts and more support staff.

It has been less clear if the pandemic also triggered a more substantial wave of investment in automation and monitoring in the data center. In an Uptime Institute survey in July 2020, 90% of operators said they would increase their use of remote monitoring as a result of the pandemic, and 73% said they would increase their use of automation.

Intentions, however, do not always translate into action and investment. Suppliers of remote monitoring tools, software and automation have not, on the whole, reported a dramatic surge in adoption (at least, not yet).

The 2020 research also revealed that many expected to spend more on infrastructure and resiliency as a direct result of the pandemic. This was not wholly expected — with more attention paid in the media to increased cloud spending.

In Uptime Institute’s latest of several surveys on the impact of COVID-19, there is, however, some evidence that spending on infrastructure, monitoring and staff have increased as a result of the pandemic. Four in 10 (40%) of operators said spending has risen as a result of the pandemic, and only one in 20 (6%) say it has fallen. Most said spending rose by less than 20%, although a few outliers saw much bigger increases.

The chart below shows the top four areas that have contributed to increased spending during the pandemic.

The data suggests that while the pandemic may subside during 2021 and 2022, the spending increase is likely to be sustained. Spending on protective equipment and extra staff may fall back, but capital technology investments, whether in increased automation/monitoring or in site resiliency, may take years to peak, and would then require ongoing operational support. As a result, data centers should be more resilient in the years ahead, and a little less susceptible to problems with a critical component — humans. But operational costs are unlikely to fall.

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