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Designing a digital infrastructure to put the UK at the centre

Spurred on by the age of big data, analytics and the cloud, data is expected to grow exponentially over the coming years. In fact, by 2020, data is expected to reach an almost unimaginable 44 zettabytes, or 44 trillion gigbabytes. There’s no doubt that all of this data presents huge opportunities to businesses, providing unparalleled insights into customers, optimising efficiency and revenue streams. Many enterprises have already caught onto this and are set to spend as much as $150bn this year alone on big data and analytics tools to harness the value from their data.

Just one example of why data has grown so rapidly amongst businesses is the introduction of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Until now, IoT was the focus of the consumer space, as we’ve connected everything from our energy meters to hair brushes. Nonetheless, recent research by Gartner suggests that businesses’ use of IoT is finally starting to catch up. In fact, organisations are set to use 3.1 billion connected “things” this year, versus the 5.2 billion units used by consumers. As a result, hybrid cloud environments, and increasingly edge computing, are becoming crucial to all business functions.

For businesses, this means that high-speed connectivity is more important than ever. IoT has the potential to deliver valuable data on processes from machine management to the supply chain. Even products themselves can be fitted with sensors capable of delivering insights on consumer habits. Communicating this data, however, requires increasingly complex computational power. The real challenge will be sustaining the increasing demand on existing digital infrastructures.

The future looks set to be in 5G. Its speed and reduced end-to-end latency may enable devices to have continuous access to data and seamless connectivity. Having this in place will pave the way for the implementation of real-time analytics, enabling businesses to increase efficiencies and make smarter decisions. Aside from relaying data insights, reduced latency can literally help businesses to go to market faster, generate revenue faster, and serve customers better.

However, when it comes to connectivity, the UK is nowhere near the top of the leader board. Outdated legacy infrastructures means that London was positioned 9th in the rankings for next generation access to broadband coverage, lagging directly behind Portugal and Latvia. In the wake of Article 50 being triggered, the UK should strive to prove that it can architect next-generation digital infrastructure to attract global business.

The recently announced Spring Budget took this first step towards making the UK a leading digital economy. £216 million will go towards a new 5G tech hub as well as local level fibre broadband projects. The question is: will this be enough?

A 2016 report by the European Commission estimates that the total cost related to the radio network and transmission links of 5G deployment will be approximately €56 billion in 2020. This cost will likely be passed on to the end user and make investments unsustainable.

In the meantime, data centres are already evolving to support future connectivity needs and as they do, are coming closer to the solution organisations will need. To power the future of IoT, core and edge data centres will need to work in tandem. Core data centres offer the processing power and scalability necessary to handle an expanding ‘internet of everything’. Edge devices are then able to carry out tasks with lower processing needs at the source of the data itself, ensuring the greatest efficiency.

Nonetheless, providers will need to adopt a strategy which connects the core to the edge compute without the loss of performance. Digital Realty’s connected campus aims to address this by hosting the edge compute on the same campus as the core facility. The connected campus also offers direct access to a business’ cloud services provider which decreases latency, making it possible for their network to perform complex computing tasks. This type of proximity is particularly important for financial exchanges that rely on low latency applications, and for delivery of content-rich applications across devices.

It is evident that there should be a split from legacy architectures to facilitate the growing amount of data being harnessed by businesses. The UK should act now if it is to be viewed as the leading digital economy which can support this. Digital investment strategies from both the public and private sector will likely ensure that it remains a global business hub in the years to come.

Dale Green is Associate marketing director EMEA, Digital Realty