The role of 5G in supporting mission critical computing

5g mission critical

If there is one constant in life, it is that everything exists in constant state of evolution. This is no less true of the data centre industry, which, over the last few years, has seen the rapid adoption of technology which requires greater cloud migration, cloud technology, data-producing platforms, hybrid IT strategies, and edge computing.  

5G has supported the proliferation of these mission critical computing applications. As Jon Abbott, telecom strategic clients director at Vertiv, says: “5G is supporting our digital evolution by becoming the end-point of data collection. Whether that be by machine-to-machine connectivity, or by human-to-machine, 5G is the engine for mass data collection. In addition, such are the demands of the mission critical environment, some of the platforms and computing applications are embedded within the network itself, moving closer to the point of data collection. The eventual result will be complete proliferation, where network and compute are indistinguishable.” 

Nowhere is this more apparent than at the ‘edge’. In a 2020 editorial for Kingston Technology, Simon Besteman, managing director of the Dutch Cloud Community, notes that one of the issues that edge data centres – essentially decentralised data storage facilities placed closer to the point where data is created – can address is the exponential increase in the volume of data generated and exchanged. This will be made possible, he argues, because of the rise of the ‘Internet-of-Things’ (IoT), but also because of 5G connectivity. 

“5G will be the central element for this revolution,” Besteman writes. “This next step of mobile communication… not only allows for much higher speeds (100 times faster on average) but 5G will allow us to connect with up to one million devices per square kilometre.” Citing scenarios including sensors to measure soil humidity to increase the precision of irrigation, and the remote management of parts, quality control, and supply chains in industrial settings, Besteman asserts that the changes enabled by 5G will make a huge difference to the way we work and live. 

5G and the metaverse 

In its recent report outlining the five data centre industry trends for 2023, Vertiv identified 5G’s role in enabling the ‘metaverse’ – an iteration of the internet as a single, universal and immersive virtual world facilitated by the use of virtual reality and augmented reality headsets.  

Omdia, in its 2022 Mobile Subscription and Revenue Forecast, projects nearly half of all mobile subscriptions – more than 5.8 billion – to be 5G by 2027, pushing computing closer and closer to the user. With the metaverse currently searching for an ultra-dense, low-latency computing network, Vertiv predicts that we will see these two activities intersect, with metaverse implementations leveraging 5G networks to enable the ultra-low latency features the application demands. 

“Ultimately, this will require higher powered computing in those 5G edge locations, and we will see that happening soon with early forays in 2023 followed by more widespread deployments in the years after,” says Vertiv. “As the edge of the network becomes more sophisticated, so will the infrastructure needed to support it. This will include technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality planning and management systems, alongside increased adoption of lithium-ion UPS systems at the edge – an ongoing trend that saw share increase from two per cent of sales in August 2021, to eight per cent in August 2022, according to IDC.” 

This is not to say that things will be smooth-sailing. The highly reliable, high-throughput and bounded latency networks that are required to make the metaverse functional are more demanding than the current best effort services for mobile broadband, according to a 2022 blog entry from Ericsson. 5G is ready to deliver that, but challenges remain in network densifications, spectrum availability, indoor/outdoor capacity increase, and co-existence between mobile broadband, mission critical communications, and XR services in wide area networks. 

“Providing cutting-edge networks, however, is not enough,” the post goes on to say. “All ecosystem players need to come together and strategically contribute to a coherent R&D and standardisation roadmap. Without such a tight cooperation, the metaverse may not happen for years to come – or ever.” 

Understanding when cloud makes sense 

New facilities will be needed to meet the demand for new 5G networks and cloud capability. Colocation providers are increasingly looking towards pre-fabricated modular data centre solutions to scale quickly and efficiently, while also meeting their sustainability goals. Schneider Electric, for example, says that, because of their design, pre-fabricated modular data centres can typically be up and running in 60 per cent less time than traditional data centres. 

However, according to Mike Bushong, group VP of cloud-ready data centres at Juniper Networks, a lot of companies have thus far moved to the cloud on the premise that costs would be lower. They engaged consulting companies or partners to help them lift their existing applications and move them to the cloud. But it turns out that doing the same exact thing from a different location does not always have the tangible benefits they had hoped for. 

“The future seems decidedly hybrid, but not in that applications will dynamically move from on-prem to cloud and back. Applications that are not cloud-native, but that are still needed, likely stay where they are,” says Bushong. “New applications will be built with a specific hosting location in mind, and they will largely stay where they are. But the move to the cloud will have given these companies a taste of cloud operations, and that will be enough to trigger a general adoption of cloud-like workflows and interfaces in on-prem infrastructure.” 

Given the pace at which change is occurring in the mission critical computing field, and the enthusiasm we all hold for the latest advancements in technology, that future may be upon us sooner than expected. 

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