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What to look for as colocation comes closer to the edge

With a new category of colocation data centres now offering a myriad of benefits to businesses across the world, John Hall, managing director from Proximity Data Centres, looks at what needs to be considered.

The colocation data centre model is well established as an alternative to running and maintaining all or specific IT workloads on premise; a secure and flexible outsourcing solution allowing enterprise businesses to rent space, power, cooling and bandwidth to run applications and services on their own servers.

Furthermore, the last few years in the UK has seen cloud providers decide to use colocation data centres to host ‘as a service’ cloud subscription solutions such as IaaS, SaaS and PaaS instead of building their own – perhaps as a result of Brexit. At the same time, the tumbling cost of fibre has enabled greater freedom over data centre location for colocation operators and their customers.

An abundance of fibre has been key to removing the cost and latency-related barriers that previously dictated a ‘LondonM25 first’ location strategy for many CIOs – out of necessity for proximity to the major telecoms exchanges. With a more level playing field, regional colocation facilities have become an increasingly popular alternative to London area locations in order to deliver a better service to their users and reduce their network costs.

However, the impact of latency sensitive IoT and edge computing applications is now driving demand for a new category of colo: highly connected internet edge data centres sited close to major UK conurbations. These support decentralised edge cloud environments and are pivotal in extending the cloud down to the local level. By performing much of the data processing, control and management of local applications in edge colo data centres close to users and edge computer devices, latency is greatly reduced and application responsiveness optimised.

This follows the urgent need for service providers and IoT apps developers to reduce latency by being physically closer to customers. There is also a growing realisation by traditional enterprise businesses that moving data closer to employees and end users is part of the ‘new normal’ – for instance, Gartner has found that 74% of enterprises plan to shift to more remote-work post-COVID-19.

Minimising latency is now seen as essential in enabling almost everything: maximising enterprise productivity, efficiency and competitive advantage; customer experience; ensuring reliable 5G mobile network coverage; super-fast streaming video; real-time AI/MLL decision making in industrial automation and medical environments; pinpoint control of driverless vehicles and much more.

However, while top priorities, the ‘need for speed’ in terms of achieving low latency connectivity along with greater bandwidth and the benefits of reduced data transit costs must not be allowed to distract from the other fundamentals of colocation: Continuous 24/7 data and storage systems availability through the provision of secure and resilient critical infrastructure.

Seeing the bigger picture

CIOs and IT professionals should therefore take a holistic view when considering how regional colocation data centres can get their data and applications closer to users and customers. Aside from the connectivity options availability and latency, it is wise to check overall quality when evaluating potential sites and suppliers which brings into focus power, cooling, physical and cyber security.

Don’t overlook proof of uptime service record, proven certifiable security and operational credentials as well the DR and business continuity contingencies. Ask about forward power availability, the types of cooling systems used and overall facilities energy efficiency (PUE) – use of 100% renewably sourced power should be a given by now but also look at how else a potential data centre provider is addressing sustainability. The use of on-site solar and wind power for example.

The level of on-site engineering competence available is also important, especially for configuring and interconnecting complex edge cloud environments. These may involve public, private and perhaps on premise legacy applications. With this, the flexibility to carry out pre-production testing in the data centre will be a bonus to ensure everything works prior to launching.

The agility to respond extremely quickly to new opportunities or challenges is clearly a further important factor in the new normal. Moving servers into a new strategic edge data centre location will need to be done quickly and may require specialist support. To save time, an operator providing door-to-door migration services could be a major time saving.

Consider too the management overhead of dealing with a number of smaller data centres owned by different suppliers with different SLA’s and terms and conditions. There’s also the tactical ways of doing business such as access to site, security levels, and Health and Safety considerations, all of which are hidden costs – straightforward SLAs and single contracts covering all edge colocation sites in an operator’s portfolio might well be beneficial in the interests of saving time.

In summary, the core colocation proposition remains the same as ever but the growing shift towards the edge is raising the stakes for traditional colocation data centre operators. While these will still have their place, edge colocation data centres allow their customers to expand data capacity and house data locally for nearby customers and other users. But in the rush to be closer to the action it is still as necessary as ever for businesses and service providers to thoroughly check a data centre’s credentials.

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