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Location, location, location

Darren Watkins, MD at Virtus Data Centres asks: should location be at the centre of successful data centre strategy?

If the data centre challenge is no longer “build vs. buy” – complexity and capacity challenges has meant that “buy” has won that particular war – then the question for many organisations has become “which partner do I trust?”, and importantly, “where are their data centres located?”.

In addition to price, scalability, uptime and reliability, for many, “location” is the key consideration when choosing a technology partner.

A good choice of location means an optimised infrastructure and application environment, capable of reaching your entire audience, or a game changing data analytics strategy that helps you understand your operations and your customers better than competitors. On the flipside, poor location can result in unstable connections and efficiency problems.

Clearly, there’s a lot to consider when choosing a partner – from physical security, disaster recovery, data centre uptime guarantees, service levels, scalability and reliability to ongoing support and maintenance – and companies need to strike a balance between location being an important component of choice, and making it the only concern when looking for a data centre provider.

Getting the basics right

In theory, a data centre can be built anywhere with power and connectivity, but in reality, location has an impact on the quality of service that the facility is able to provide to its customers.

Connectivity, for example, is a cooperative venture which relies on proximity. Ideal connectivity depends on multiple redundant fibre connections to major bandwidth providers, and the only way to provide consistent and reliable bandwidth at the volumes required by an enterprise-grade data centre is to build lots of connections to lots of different network providers.

The facilities of these providers tend to cluster together at major peering points, and when data centres are located in close geographic proximity to Internet Exchanges, or peering points, the organisations using them will benefit from low-latency and multiply-redundant bandwidth.

However, regardless of how much bandwidth a data centre has access to, its customers are inescapably bound by the physics and the infrastructure of the internet i.e. data takes time to travel.

Round-trip distances are usually double the geographic distance, because both the request and the response have to traverse that distance. This is important to any business; surveys consistently show that internet users are quick to drop sites with slow page load times – people want access to data instantaneously.

The round-trip time is compounded by the state of the network. Data almost never travels in a straight line between sender and recipient. Instead, it meanders through networks, routers, and switches, each of which can add latency – the closer the data centre to its customers, the lower the latency.

When it comes to choosing a location, many organisations are also concerned with meeting the data protection laws that are beginning to crop up all over Europe.

GDPR means that UK companies are now required to provide adequate protection to all customer data they collect and store.

This includes not transferring data outside of the European Economic Area without adequate protection. Brexit confuses things even further – we don’t yet know what exiting the European Union will do to the data transit rules.

There may be some cases in which a country’s laws require that certain types of data must be hosted domestically. There may be other occasions in which hosting data in one country is not appropriate if that data is accessed by users in another country. When selecting a data centre location, companies always need to take data protection laws into account.

There are a number of additional factors to consider. These include local tax structures, access to utilities, availability of suitable networking solutions, local infrastructure, and the accessibility of a skilled labour pool.

Other concerns

All these things combined make it very clear that the physical location of your data centre is important. However, a lack of land availability and increasing costs have seen data centres moving into the suburbs.

It isn’t simply a matter of building at the edge of large cities to get best performance at the lowest cost. A knowledge of the national power infrastructure is needed to future proof any investment; an in-depth understanding of where the fibre operators’ networks exist and being able to provide an “on-ramp” access solution to public cloud platforms is critical to any enterprise deployment today.

At Virtus, we took the decision to build data centres in an area around London, which we termed the “Goldilocks Zone”.

This enables us to combine lower-cost availability of ample space and power for hyper efficient data centres with the availability of broad and rich connectivity – fibre that today’s digital businesses need.

These facilities are far enough from city centres for disaster recovery purposes and avoiding expensive city centre premiums, but close enough to be easily accessible by local and international businesses.

Indeed, Virtus’ focus is on site diversity following the points of the compass and its expansion plans continue to deliver premium carrier-neutral data centre capacity to ensure customers can expand their footprint as their businesses grow.

Final thought

So, is location really everything when it comes to data centre placement? In short – no.

When choosing a colocation data centre provider, there are many factors to consider, including connectivity, reputation, services, support and cost.

But, it’s certainly true that one of the most important factors is location. Location is central not just because the geographical location matters, but because location has an impact on many of the other factors which are crucial to data centre success.

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