As a global community, our reliance on technology during the pandemic has brought the data center industry into sharp focus. Today, online services have become as important as major public utilities. We only have to look to the recent Internet outage at cloud service provider, Fastly, to see the chaos that service disruption can cause. Websites such as gov.uk, Amazon and the FT were all affected showing just how critical robust, reliable and high-speed connectivity is now both expected and needed for home working and homeschooling, as well as online shopping, exercising and socializing – all of which have become the norm over the last eighteen months. This has left organizations in no doubt that they can’t take any risks with their data center strategies.
If the pandemic has taught the business world one thing, it’s that being able to cope with evolving situations is critical. Keeping the show on the road has been the number one priority for companies in all industries, and businesses are relying on their data center partners to act as the lynchpin for business continuity. To meet this need, data center partners must provide assurances with regards to uptime and availability, reliability and disaster recovery – demonstrating that whatever happens, they can help keep businesses running.
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100 percent uptime
Defining much of data center best practice comes with tried and test processes and experience really shows its value when things go wrong. No matter how much forward planning and testing has been implemented, how innovative the design of the data center is or how good the people and technology are, something will inevitably go wrong, and equipment will fail for one reason or another. It will be the monitoring, reacting and operating procedures - evolved over these years of learnings - that ensure customer experience isn’t negatively impacted when such events occur. Only with solid experience in Operational Excellence can providers build robust processes, tried and tested in live scenarios, to ensure the best possible levels of service.
When it comes to the explosion of e-commerce and widespread remote working, some employers are evaluating how best to re-establish future office life. We’re likely to see remote and hybrid working patterns embraced for the long term by companies who appreciate the flexibility, productivity and cost saving benefits it brings. And the “Amazon generation”, who are used to getting goods and services quickly and easily, are unlikely to return to relying solely on in-store shopping. All of this extra online traffic puts intense pressure on the infrastructure - security, servers, storage and network - of any organization.
IT departments need to deploy forward-looking capacity management if they are to proactively meet their current and future needs. This means selecting a data center partner that can provide enough capacity for its demands, and adapt and flex to their constantly changing needs. Businesses must ensure they choose a data center provider that has a solid, proven and relevant track record in delivering consistency in product and service, over time and in the regions that are important to them. Only the most experienced providers are in a position to take the learnings of every design, build and operations project they have undertaken, and develop best practice and provide service assurances, based on years of learnings.
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Many people are not aware that for every online shopping click or Zoom meeting, there is an energy and environmental impact. With the explosion of data center usage set to continue over the forthcoming decade, the industry has a responsibility to ensure it is being as efficient and sustainable as it can be while maintaining utility levels of service.
A notable area of success is within the deployment of renewable energy. Many forward-looking data center providers have moved away from fossil fuels for the long term and some are committing to using 100 percent zero-carbon power, benefiting from increases in sustainability, reliability and cost-effectiveness. Power-hungry elements like cooling are continually evolving too. Trailblazing operators have been using techniques like indirect adiabatic cooling for some time, which provide the cooling functionality data centers need, but with very low energy use.
Innovating for the future
When looking to the future, as with most sectors, the data center industry is leading the way in innovation; constant price pressure affects businesses across the board, so it is the responsibility of all organizations to invest time and money in research and development. For data centers, every aspect of their solution is considered - from cooling systems, to security, to monitoring. Data centers are the sum of many technical and construction parts and each supporting industry constantly uses their knowledge and experience to innovate and improve. The most experienced data center providers are in a leadership position to take the learnings of every design, build and operations project which they have undertaken, and from this knowledge develop best practice and new strategies.
Trends including immersion cooling, backup power and generator solutions are all areas that are being reviewed for their future efficiencies in the future. Whilst sustainability will continue to be an important concern to be reviewed and addressed by all businesses, it will be the responsibility of everyone to continue to investigate what can be done to help mitigate climate change; for example, carbon neutral is the stated position of many providers, but the more forward-thinking are looking to go further and commit to becoming carbon zero. Other areas under review include alternative sources of backup power and the wider adoption of fuel cells as a standby energy source. To date nothing is workable at the scale needed for large data centers, but research continues. Data center providers must keep using their experience to innovate if they are to meet their needs and those of their customers.
There has never been a more critical time for data center providers. As we move through an extended period of post-pandemic uncertainty, it’s the digital infrastructure that is going to underpin the economy and keep most, if not all businesses running.
This reliance on the data center also means that selecting an industry partner is more important than ever too. Selecting an expert provider that can not only meet your current and future demands – but that can prove its credentials based on past experience - is a business-critical decision. And when it comes to the right partner, more than anything, experience matters.
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Darren Watkins, Managing Director, VIRTUS Data Centres