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Cloud, colocation – or both?

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Are cloud and colocation complementary or competitive solutions? It’s a debate that’s been raging in the wake of the rising dominance of cloud technologies over the past decade.

Offering flexible, scalable and cost-effective infrastructure, demand for cloud solutions jumped as the pandemic hit and businesses moved at speed to support remote workforces and a raft of new digital operations and services.

As organisations re-assess their priorities and cost bases, while evaluating how best to upscale infrastructure capacity for today’s increasingly data-centric and digitalised operations, the search for an optimised way to support mission-critical workloads, while reducing IT costs, is intensifying.

Choosing a middle path – hybrid

Unsurprisingly, this is refuelling discussions around the question of which is best – cloud or colocation – in terms of adapting to future challenges and an evolving IT landscape.

The problem is that the decision isn’t quite as clear cut as it might seem. This is because data centres are evolving fast to become just one feature in a much larger and more complex environment that is typically distributed across multiple locations and contains both on and off-premises facilities.

This means that colocation providers are evolving fast too. No longer limited to the provision of data centre facilities that just provide floor space, electrical power and an internet connection, many now offer a host of services – from managed IT to hybrid cloud. And some offer direct connections to public cloud providers like Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

In other words, today you can have both colocation and cloud. It’s no longer an either/or choice. Indeed, for many organisations, opting for a hybrid infrastructure is enabling them to create the right mix of cloud and traditional IT to suit their needs.

Banishing misconceptions

In essence, the cloud is a set of services, technologies and tools that are provided via a physical IT environment that sits in a data centre. This could be a cloud provider’s own data centres, but more typically, cloud providers use colocation facilities to house these services. So, regardless of whether an organisation is looking to use private, public or hybrid cloud, ultimately it all sits on physical infrastructure that resides somewhere in some form of data centre.

Having reframed your thinking in this way, it’s easier to understand how the rise of cloud has impacted colocation in a positive way. That’s because colocation providers have been able to take advantage of virtualised or cloud environments to run more services on less hardware and expand into managed services, where virtualised workloads are isolated in multi-tenanted server environments. It’s a move that both reduces the footprint required in data centres while enabling customers to deploy their own private clouds from data centres that sit within a colocation facility.

Indeed, many next generation colocation providers are now rebranding themselves as multi-cloud and hybrid cloud providers that offer fast data connectivity to public clouds. As technology advances and future enhancements in AI and machine learning emerge, colocation providers will play a pivotal role in leveraging the cloud to enable more compute at optimum times and overcome the challenges of legacy and ageing hardware.

In this way, colocation isn’t in competition with the cloud; it complements it. Indeed, state-of-the-art data centres are now finding innovative ways to reuse heat and power, turning this waste into a usable asset. All of which can only assist cloud providers when it comes to maintaining their commitments to tackling the challenges of climate change.

Colocation is evolving – fast

Colocation data centres are evolving fast to offer high-performance colocation facilities featuring bespoke solutions that are designed to address the changing demands of customers. Many enterprises are now looking to mix and match public and hybrid cloud models with their colocation data centre environments in order to balance the need for a secure and stable production infrastructure with a growing requirement for agility and high-performance compute.

For enterprises, there are numerous positive gains to be achieved by adopting a hybrid approach to their IT ecosystems. While many workloads may work best in the cloud, cloud isn’t necessarily always cost-effective for applications where demand is predictable and stable. Plus cloud doesn’t always provide the high performance needed for AI, machine learning or real-time data analytics. All of which makes colocation the ideal choice for applications that require compute-dense resources and low latency response times. Added to which, colocation also offers significant benefits where data sovereignty, security and privacy regulations are concerned.

As a result, enterprises are now turning to colocation as a means to locate and manage data closer to their cloud, network and security functions while enabling the public cloud and hyper-converged systems capacity that is both affordable and can be closely managed and controlled. This in turn means they’re increasingly relying on colocation providers to support and monitor their systems – and provisioning status – in real time.

Delivering against shifting customer needs

More and more IT leaders are looking to reap the benefits of combining colocation with cloud to select the best mix, from a multitude of infrastructure choices, to meet their evolving business and workload needs.

This means that colocation providers now need to offer increasingly sophisticated network connectivity and service options to address the operational realities of these hybrid ecosystems. Along with enabling direct and secure connections to public clouds, this includes deploying tools that will deliver the intelligence needed to ensure all elements of their customer’s infrastructure are working in unison.

With Gartner predicting that by 2025, 85% of enterprise infrastructure strategies will integrate on-premises, colocation, cloud and delivery options – compared with 20% in 2020 – one thing is clear. Increasing interconnections with cloud services will be critical for speeding up access for businesses to the edge of their networks, so they can deliver faster services with lower latency. As colocation providers evolve to work with all cloud options, and the increasingly sophisticated data requirements of customers, connectivity services are set to become a defining competitive differentiator.

With all to play for when it comes to providing the low-latency connectivity that enables enterprises to meet new business demands, the good news is that technologies like 5G are finally enabling the super-fast and affordable wired connections to colocation data centres that will be needed.

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