As governments and health systems across the world attempt to battle the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, normal life has effectively ground to a halt. Citizens have been told to stay at home - relying on collaborative technology to stay in touch with friends, family and workmates.
From internet traffic spikes as we all log onto Netflix, to keeping a nation of remote workers connected away from the office, few can doubt the importance of digital infrastructure on our lives right now. And the data centre is the central infrastructure to keeping that running.
For individual businesses the stakes are also high and it’s the companies that have the right data centre strategy that will stand the best chance of keeping the show on the road. Those who haven’t are more likely to face insurmountable challenges when it comes to business continuity, uptime and resilience.
Colocation is winning the day
Already a compelling option for organisations wanting to focus on their core business operations and reduce their capital investment in infrastructure construction, many companies are choosing colocation partners to take full responsibility for their physical environment when they simply cannot – either due to cost, expertise or both. By removing the need to have data centre personnel physically working on site, companies can keep people safe and maintain control of mission-critical infrastructure.
Furthermore, to cope with the increased digital traffic associated with the COVID-19 lockdown, the best colocation providers will deliver fully redundant network connections ensuring that customers' business critical applications always run uninterrupted. This is vital for businesses in every sector of the economy, but particularly important for industries like ecommerce where access demands are the life-blood of the business.
A key selling point for colocation providers is that their data centres are in premium locations - often situated around urban hubs. Though data itself is not physically tangible, the infrastructure and power needed to store and transfer it are. How data is stored and accessed is affected by local infrastructure, power resources, connectivity and geographic location. A good location means an optimised infrastructure and application environment, whilst poor location can result in unstable connections and efficiency problems.
In the wake of the Coronavirus, it’s important to remember that working practices, legislation and attitudes to working conditions and or safety can vary significantly from country to country. Similarly, rules regarding remote working, remote access to data, and on-site attendance can vary widely depending on where you’re operating. In this respect, location has perhaps never mattered more.
The big security issue
Another benefit of colocation providers lies in enhanced security - both in terms of physical protection for a company’s infrastructure (servers, networks, power etc.), as well as robust digital protection.
Security is at the forefront of many companies' minds, even more so right now due to the sheer number of remote workers. There has been a significant spike in phishing email scams featuring COVID-19 lures, spoof government tax refunds and numerous fear mongering messages. Indeed, a recent cyberattack in the Czech Republic saw an entire hospital shut down as a result of a compromised network, with devastating results.
It’s crucial that a data centre provider can guarantee that they’ll keep your mission critical company data safe and systems running - through 24/7 controlled access, battery back-up and on-site generators that start automatically if power were lost - and compliance with the important ISO 27001:2013 certification.
In times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, data centre providers must have stringent Business Continuity Plans in place, which can quickly and effectively be deployed, ensuring that security isn’t compromised, no matter the external factors. For many this means adapted processes, such as shift segregation with no movement of personnel between shifts, no-contact handover, more automated operations (such as remote / smart hands) and no-touch entry. On a broader level, providers are scrutinising their supply chains in order to ensure they’re robust and can deliver, and companies are working together in order to share best practice.
If there's one thing that’s characterised this pandemic, it’s uncertainty. For businesses, and their relationships with data centre providers, this means that flexibility is crucial. Even before the pandemic, long-term, rigid, data centre contracts were no longer palatable for many global cloud and digital organisations where the fast pace of business and technology often required them to change direction quickly. And, right, now, the ability to flex and scale as required is increasingly critical.
If enterprises and IT agility are held back by antiquated and inflexible data centre platforms or contracts, they won’t be able to react quickly in line with fast-changing business plans - a serious concern right now. Instead, flexible contract options provide true commercial and technical agility which benefit enterprises - for example, providing the ability to flex the contracted power, space and time of the service at any point.
As we move through a period of extreme uncertainty, it’s the critical relationship with your data centre provider which can be the difference between keeping your company running, and failing to survive.
To succeed, it’s important to ensure that your data centre partner is fulfilling all your needs. Is it taking all the necessary steps to prevent any downtime? Does it have connectivity to the right partners? And is it taking the right precautions to ensure physical, process and digital security in this testing period?
And finally, does your partnership give you the ability to plan for the future? After the pandemic is over, and business recovers, you’ll need the flexibility to scale and grow. Look for flexible contract options which provide true commercial and technical agility, so that you’re not just covered right now, but prepared for the future too.
Darren Watkins, managing director, VIRTUS Data Centres