Hyperscalers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud have become a ubiquitous part of our lives. From searching the internet, to online shopping, to storing data in the cloud, few of our online transactions escape the reach of hyperscalers. And like other businesses, hyperscalers have to continually pursue new business opportunities while tracking the evolving needs of their customers and partners.
As hockey great Wayne Gretzky once observed when asked about his proficiency at scoring goals, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Similarly, hyperscalers, who have focused traditionally on operating large-scale data compute and storage facilities in core locations—either their own or as leased colocation space—are increasingly responding to opportunities with customers moving to the edge, where data is generated and used. Edge computing allows customers to reduce latency, improve performance and support new use cases such as IoT, autonomous vehicles and augmented reality.
The 2023 Global Interconnection Index (GXI) study from Equinix reinforces this trend, listing hyperscalers as the fastest growing segment of service providers in terms of interconnection bandwidth consumption, with a CAGR of 37%. And like other leading service providers, hyperscalers are building out edge infrastructure at a rate 150% faster than their digital core.
It’s important to note, however, that cloud (core) and edge computing are not competing alternatives, but rather part of a continuum. The challenge for hyperscalers is to place colocation, compute and storage services in locations where enterprises can use those services most efficiently and cost effectively.
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Historically, the data center and network infrastructure sectors have taken a geographically centralized approach to location of key facilities and assets in Tier 1 markets such as London, Singapore and Hong Kong. This approach enabled efficient management and control of resources, took advantage of economies of scale, and facilitated speedy transactions among network participants.
As the internet has matured and experienced accelerating levels of adoption along with increased demand for private connectivity via interconnection, this centralized approach has become less practical. Growing population density, community resistance to large data centers, and local regulation has made it increasingly difficult for hyperscalers to acquire land or the electrical power required to open new facilities in centralized locations. Instead, they deploy infrastructure in wholesale colocation facilities—without the hassle of finding space and power and the expense of making CAPEX investments. The centralized approach also lacks the offsite redundancy required for business continuity and disaster recovery.
Hyperscalers move to more distributed and decentralized architectures
Hyperscalers are now taking a more distributed and decentralized approach to deploying their services. Where they previously might have built a data center in a core (Tier 1) market, they are now more likely to build or colocate “overflow” operations in emerging markets where land and power are more available. By connecting these new data centers to core markets via submarine cables, they can create a data center and network hub configuration. Market analysts believe that this shift in data center builds and deployment could eventually lead to more localized or in-country architectures.
Hyperscalers typically have the resources to build their own facilities in edge locations or emerging markets, but it often makes sense for them to go the colocation route instead. This approach gives them time to familiarize themselves with a local market, staff up their operation and generally take a “wait and see” approach should the new market opportunity not warrant the investments originally planned.
If hyperscalers do decide to build out their own data centers, their presence in market can actually benefit colocation providers, since hyperscalers are notorious for underestimating their data center needs. The mismatch between hyperscalers’ needs and capabilities can often produce significant overflow demand for colocation providers.
Local cloud services gain popularity at the edge
It’s unlikely that hyperscalers will self-build many low (1-5 MW) power facilities at the edge since they don’t scale easily. One trend gaining popularity among these cloud providers, however, is the creation of local or edge zones. Local zones place compute, storage, database and other cloud services close to large population and industry centers—often in on-premises environments. They allow customers to run applications that require low latency and local data processing in a cloud-like environment.
In countries with little or no in-country cloud infrastructure, local zones—think of them as edge data centers—enable hyperscalers to deploy local-cloud infrastructure to serve local enterprises and compliance-sensitive verticals such as government agencies. In countries with more mature cloud infrastructure, local zones can be placed at remote edge locations that lack the critical mass of end users to justify a regional cloud deployment.
Hyperscalers partner to serve edge customers
Another way for hyperscalers to build out edge infrastructure while staying focused on their core competencies is to establish regional or global partnerships with enterprises serving customers already doing business at the edge. Such partnerships offer edge customers the low latency and high performance they demand plus the quality and reliability of cloud-based compute and storage infrastructure. Hyperscalers can also offer cloud-based compute and machine learning resources as a fabric for edge customers to use as needed.
Some hyperscalers, for example, are teaming up with local telecom companies to support real-time, low-latency workloads among local users using autonomous navigation or augmented reality. These partnerships involve installing dedicated hardware in the same racks and cages that telcos currently use to provide connectivity.
Another application where hyperscalers can offer cloud capabilities to edge users is manufacturing. If a company uses image recognition to spot defects on a manufacturing line, for example, they’ll likely want to use local, real-time surveillance tools to spot defects in products before those products are packaged and shipped. If, however, they plan to use product manufacturing data to predict costly failures of manufacturing equipment they could develop machine learning models of equipment in a cloud environment. Then they could upload and run analytics on product manufacturing data using that model, all without the overhead cost of managing their own computing infrastructure.
Hyperscale market expansion is likely
By far, the “big three” hyperscalers in the U.S. are AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, accounting for more than two thirds of the nation’s data center capacity. But a second tier of hyperscalers and subscale providers—fast-growing companies that aspire to consume at hyperscale levels—is emerging.
Oracle Cloud is clearly in the hyperscale category and focused on catching the leaders. Other would-be hyperscalers include Zoom, NVIDIA, Meta, ByteDance (owns Tik Tok), and Apple, each with different degrees of interest in leasing vs self-building. In some ways, their trajectory to “hyperscaledom” is affected by the leasing and building behaviors of the big three: current hyperscalers can effectively squeeze out opportunities for new hyperscalers by leasing all the available data center capacity or buying up all the land for building new data centers. The cost and availability of capital to would-be hyperscalers is also a significant factor in their future growth.
Expect a dramatic rise in hyperscale activity
The last few years of pandemic-driven growth of digital infrastructure has added momentum to major trends in cloud computing already in place. Over the next decade, expect to see core markets continue to expand while hyperscalers, regional service providers and other enterprises continue to decentralize their digital infrastructure to reach edge or strategic, difficult-to-access locations. The move to the edge is all about getting infrastructure closer to end users in the most convenient, most cost-effective way, whether users are in emerging markets or just remote locations of well-developed countries.
Hyperscalers will no doubt drive this decentralization, either as part of their core business or in partnership with others. One way or another, however, data center colocation providers are likely to be the foundation on which this future is built.
Equinix can integrate a world of digital partnerships
As the world’s digital infrastructure company™, Equinix helps facilitate a world of partnerships and time-sensitive, low-latency transactions among hyperscalers, regional cloud service providers and smaller enterprises. Through our worldwide network of Equinix IBX® data centers and Equinix digital services (Equinix Fabric®, Equinix Metal® and Network Edge), we help businesses connect quickly and securely to customers and new markets, sustainably.
Equinix xScale™ hyperscale data centers are located near Equinix IBX colocation facilities globally, making it easy for hyperscalers to add core deployments to their existing footprint of access points on Platform Equinix®. This supports their growth on a single platform that can immediately span 70+ global metros providing access to customers and strategic business partners across a vibrant set of digital ecosystems. Often, a hyperscaler’s access point will be inside an Equinix IBX data center, giving customers in those facilities low-latency access to the hyperscaler’s services. When the current xScale expansion plan is fully built out, we expect to have a total of 36 facilities delivering more than 720 megawatts of power capacity.
To learn how to bring together digital infrastructure that encompasses a choice of multiple providers, distributed geographies and hybrid multi-cloud architectures, read our Leaders’ Guide to Digital Infrastructure eBook.
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