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The people challenge: Global data center staffing forecast 2021-2025

18 February, 2021

The people challenge: Global data center staffing forecast 2021-2025
Digital growth continues to fuel strong new demand for data center capacity, and it shows no signs of slowing. According to Uptime Institute, global data center staff requirements are forecast to grow globally from about 2.0 million full-time employee equivalents in 2019 to nearly 2.3 million in 2025, which means a 15% increase. This estimate covers more than 230 specialist job roles for different types of data centers, with varying criticality requirements, from design through operation. The ongoing build-out of new data centers and networks is being driven largely by cloud, hosted and other as-a-service workloads, as more enterprises seek to outsource more of their IT.

As the data center build-out continues around the globe, new staff will be needed across all geographic regions. Most demand will be in the Asia Pacific region (driven by expected cloud and colo data center capacity growth in China, parts of Southeast Asia, Australia, and elsewhere), followed by North America and the Europe, Middle East, and Africa regions. We can observe a tendency with data center owners of having difficulty finding qualified candidates for open jobs, which rose to 50% in 2020, especially staff to design, build and operate these data centers. In the large and mature data center markets of the US and Western Europe, there is concern that many employees are due to retire around the same time, causing an additional surge in demand, particularly for senior roles.

Forecasted demand for different types of data centers mirrors the long-term and fundamental tilt toward ever-greater use of outsourced data center services, such as colocation and cloud, and a relative decline in enterprise data center demand. Cloud and colo companies have and will invest in efficiency, using strategies such as value engineering (IT equipment is designed for reduced, easy, and low-cost maintenance) and fail in place (allowing equipment to fail and be replaced or maintained later).

Cloud operators are creating and supporting new demand, especially in consumer-facing IT services and attracting workloads from already existing enterprise data centers. The voracious growth of the cloud operators is helping to drive leased data center sector growth. Cloud includes consumer internet companies (e.g., eBay and Facebook), as well as enterprise public cloud providers (examples include Microsoft and Google). These businesses may also provide hosted application or infrastructure services to end-users.

The data center sector — and its workforce — is set to expand, which will exacerbate shortages where they already exist and could create new talent strains elsewhere. Colo and cloud capacity will experience continued rapid expansion. The pace of growth can outweigh their economies of scale, which is pushing staff requirements for these types of data centers upward. By 2025 or so, the total staff employed by cloud data centers may surpass that of enterprise data centers.

How data centers can solve the problem of qualified data center engineers shortages? One of the possible solutions could be the automatization of data center design and operation tasks. While automatization of data centers’ operation management is on the rise, the industry lacks comprehensive design tools, that could help IT engineers quickly create multi-vendor solutions, including network & IT design. Addressing this issue would significantly ease the rollout of new data centers and support data center engineers in their daily work by automating routine configuration and estimation tasks.