Four trends that will influence data in 2024

The data era is in full swing, yet it’s only getting started. Every year brings new developments to the data space. In 2023, AI and cybercrime raised data’s profile and spread the importance of managing this crucial asset. What can we anticipate from the data market next year? Sithabile Technology Services, a data and cloud management leader, predicts four trends set to shape 2024’s data market.

More data centres in SA

More companies are moving their servers to third-party data centres or decommissioning those in favour of cloud alternatives also hosted on third-party data centres. Due to rising costs and power issues, many are shifting to improve business resiliency. But it’s also about growth: cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town are very competitive data centre locations compared to Europe and the US. Data centre companies have invested billions into the local market, and another major international submarine has made landfall in the country— those developments will start showing results in 2024.

“Data centres are necessary infrastructure for growing cloud and data markets, and there is a big push to expand Africa’s data centre market. South Africa is the main hub of that activity, and we’ll see more signs of that status in 2024,” says Rob Abrams, Chief Technology Officer at Sithabile Technology Services.

Unstructured data management

Organisations have accepted that they should manage their data proactively through data management platforms. However, there has been less focus on the unstructured data outside official databases and file servers. Unstructured data resides in emails, machines, unofficial shared drives, and many more places. Collaboration culture, remote working, and cloud technologies have ballooned this massive data class, creating more compliance and security risks. Now that the enterprise spotlight is on artificial intelligence, companies are starting to look specifically at how to manage and use their unstructured data.

“Unstructured data has always been in the wings, but businesses largely ignored it while they focused on other data matters. But as they grow more confident about data management, and because of the growing pressure from cybercrime, compliance, and AI, there is a surge of interest in specifically managing unstructured data,” says Abrams.

Data Processing Units arrive

Data Processing Units (DPUs) are a new type of specialised chip that takes a significant load off the computing chips powering data centre systems. These chips can run specialised data tasks, such as transfer, reduction, security, compression, analytics, and encryption, and do so at scale. Data growth and artificial intelligence are increasing interest in DPUs. Nvidia, the world’s most valuable chipmaker, as well as Microsoft and Amazon, are actively developing DPUs for different uses. Very soon, these new chips will be everywhere.

“Most companies probably won’t jump into DPUs directly. Except for enterprises with deep pockets, the main adopters are companies developing data-centric technologies such as AI or selling those services into the market. But that also means that while many companies won’t own DPUs in 2024, they will benefit from them,” says Abrams.

HAMR more data onto hard drives

The first magnetic hard drive was released in 1956. Today’s magnetic drives, known colloquially as hard drives, are much more advanced than that first model, and they maintain a healthy market share because they offer an excellent cost-to-storage ratio. Though solid-state flash drives have been closing that ratio gap, magnetic hard drives have a new edge: HAMR, or Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording. HAMR is a new technique to write data to a magnetic drive’s platter, opening the door for hard drives with capacities of 40 and 50 terabytes (current drives max out at 20 terabytes). The first test HAMR drives shipped to selected companies in 2023, signalling that 2024 might be when this technology debuts commercially.

“Lately, many people have tried to predict the end of magnetic hard drives, but technologies like HAMR have other plans. HAMR is one of several new techniques to increase storage on hard drives, and it looks set to be the first to arrive. The idea of drives with 50 terabytes of storage will be very appealing to companies struggling with storage. It will continue to expand the relevance of magnetic hard drives,” he says.