Over the last 18 months, the pandemic lockdown restrictions have forced organizations to make changes to the way they operate. This has led business all over the world to look at the real estate they own or lease and how to optimize its use to support a more hybrid and flexible way of working in the future. Many are realizing that how, where, and when their employees work is likely to change; a change that was already beginning to occur, but now accelerated across many sectors and sizes of business. During the pandemic, employees have proven that some can be just as effective while working remotely and a survey by CIPD earlier this year found that at third (33 percent) of employees said that their productivity improved when working from home, and many want to continue enjoying this benefit even after the pandemic subsides.
Some companies are considering a wholesale shift to virtual working, giving up office space and making huge savings in real estate fees. Others are turning to a hybrid environment, where offices are kept, but slimmed down, and on-premise work is seamlessly combined with the ability to work from home.
As with most things, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The answer, different for every company, will be based on what work needs to be carried out, where, how it’s done and by whom. But there is one issue that applies to almost all organizations, and that’s how to deal with the technology challenges that come along with any radical change to the workplace. As hybrid and flexible working evolves, the demands it places on both the infrastructure of today and tomorrow increase, and new solutions are needed.
What does this all mean to the data center industry? And how can data center providers respond to the new challenges of a significantly changing working world?
Colocation is winning the day
Pre-pandemic, some digital transformation journeys were already underway, but plenty were still on the drawing board. Although most organizations knew that speed was an important aspect of their digital journey, many believed that time was on their side – a timescale of several years seemed like a more than acceptable pace at which to implement such widespread change.
When Covid-19 came along, the best-laid plans were blown out of the water. Almost overnight, there was a rush to enable the newly created remote workforce, locked down at home with no immediate prospect of a return to the office. The fortunate ones were able to accelerate their planned digital transformations; the not so lucky had to almost make it up as they went along – moving quickly and without a plan.
It’s here where colocation comes into its own. Data centers aren’t just reserved for the large hyperscalers, but providers are there for any sized organization to benefit. Colocation is the simple practice of renting space in a third-party provider’s data center facility. As well as enabling businesses to streamline their own physical presence, there are plenty of other good reasons to migrate servers from on-premise organizations’ infrastructure.
Having IT assets in a colocation facility allows fast, easy connectivity to the cloud services which are almost certainly a central part a remote working strategy. Robust, reliable data center interconnect infrastructure allows businesses to set up and access the cloud environment they need, much more speedily than using in-house IT.
Security benefits are also compelling and continue to be crucial as companies move to virtual or hybrid working. At a most basic level, if a computer room, server floor or data center is a part of an office building, and that office building is empty, how can companies possibly know that their IT infrastructure is safe? In a colocation facility, the physical security measures in place, plus the presence of staff, provide peace of mind and ongoing assurances that equipment and data is safe.
Whatever IT strategy was introduced as a short-term response to the pandemic, organizations now need to make strategic, longer-term plans to respond to the potential changes to working practices. It’s likely the strategy will involve the increasing use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), High Performance Computing (HPC), Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA.) - and these digital technologies require a level of data center / IT infrastructure that is unlikely to be available on-premise. Colocation providers have already built out a part of their data centers ready to accept these resource-hungry technologies, and provide a compelling solution for the business of the future.
Providing a safe pair of hands
Like so many other industries, the data center business has been hit hard by Covid, and it’s perhaps no surprise that data centers, and other organizations in the sector, have been granted government support to keep their services up and their staff employed. With this in mind, longevity is an increasingly important selling point for providers showing both potential customers and existing partners that you’re going to be around for the long term.
Crucial too, will be the ability to demonstrate robust disaster recovery strategies- something which the industry has in abundance following the rigor of pandemic working. For example, remote management has helped data centers to automate a lot of processes - from remote checks and measures to sophisticated alarm systems - crucial in the event of widespread lockdowns.
In addition, deployment efficiency (how quickly their customers can get up and running) is also important. This can be difficult quantify into a specific stat or number, but particularly today speed is essential – and providers are using examples of how quickly they can perform as evidence.
A bright future for remote working
With the Coronavirus pandemic provoking a new mix of working from home and office work, demands are sure to increase on both the infrastructure of today and tomorrow. And, as the hybrid workforce becomes the approach adopted by many organizations, a correspondingly hybrid data center architecture is essential.
This radical shift in ways of working is an opportunity both for companies to relook at IT infrastructure and reassess what’s needed to power long-term growth and for tech companies – particularly colocation providers – to prove their value in a radically reimagined world of work.
Darren Watkins, managing director, VIRTUS Data Centres