We are coming into an age where the sky will be full of eyes and ears, collecting data, and moving it to and from any point on the planet. Satellites resources are steadily moving from mainframe-style to cloud access anyone can use. The impact to data centers will be in at least three areas, including information storage, Big Data processing, and connectivity.
Planet Labs and Google already have satellite fleets taking pictures of the surface of the earth on a regular basis, with terabytes (TB) of data flowing from dozens to hundreds of individual imaging sensors back to earth and into storage. Numerous other networks are in the process of being built and launched, monitoring the world in visible light, near IR, and "hyperspectral" models capturing information in multiple wavelengths. Radars add another layer of information, seeing through clouds and darkness to watch the movement of ships, changes in geology, and how much oil is being pumped into storage tanks.
The Internet of Things (IoT) also benefits from satellites, with a number of dedicated services designed to collect and route data from ships, planes, pipelines, oil platforms, shipping containers and from any other "thing" not convenient to a terrestrial cellular network or landline. Information is used to monitor geo-physical location and status, with capabilities to provide alerts when there's a breakdown; preferably with predicative modeling to maintain and fix systems before there's a catastrophic event.
With terabytes of data per day flowing in, all that information needs to be stored, analysed and archived. Depending on the business and model, imagery and raw data may be either kept in a satellite service's data base with processing conducted there via APIs and customised tools. Alternatively, raw data can be purchased and moved to a customer's site for processing by more unique and proprietary tools for a particular business application.
All of the data collected on a regular basis - daily imagery, hourly reporting, minute-by-minute status - accumulates quickly to Big Data and the need to run analytics on the information to provide business insights. Analysis of satellite imagery is sifted for changes over time, looking at everything from the number of cars parked outside of a mall to crop growth in the middle of farm season.
Coming soon to a sky near you are low-latency broadband networks to augment and expand the reach of existing terrestrial fiber and cellular networks. An antenna roughly the size of a large laptop or a bit bigger will provide megabits to gigabits of bandwidth, depending on the network and the size of check customers write. OneWeb, SpaceX, and LeoSat have all declared their intentions of building low-flying large scale satellite networks to provide an alternative to fiber or a solution in place of fiber where none is available.
Low-flying large satellite networks, with hundreds to thousands of satellites covering the globe, may ultimately compete with fiber due to the fact that they can relay packets in a relatively straight line above the earth rather than having to follow a meandering path where cable has been buried.
Needless to say, these satellite networks will also deliver broadband to underserved and unserved areas of the planet with all the fresh opportunities that come along with new territories. Processing transactions in Asia and Africa could take place in Iceland or anywhere else on the planet with little or no latency added, if the broadband newcomers live up to their hype.
The era of satellite IT is opening up numerous possibilities for data centers as it generates and moves around vast quantities of information. Add in the extension of connectivity through new broadband networks, IT Managers need to start factoring in what capabilities satellite will add to their portfolio in the years to come.