If the COVID pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s that the notion of the traditional data center is significantly evolving. For years, companies routinely stored data either on-premises or in an off-site data center. Little, if any, thought was given to the notion of a distributed workforce or the need for a distributed data center infrastructure. And the term "edge computing" was not in anyone’s vocabulary.
Companies in the sector routinely described themselves as data center providers. Or, if they wanted to be as advanced firms, they called themselves colocation providers. But the emergence of a virus that forced reevaluation of the way people work — and from where they work — has changed the very notion of how companies do business. It has also changed the perception and the need for how data centers are utilized. Customers are requiring more from these third-party providers, and they are moving more rapidly than ever, of necessity, to keep pace.
At one point, the concept of 99.999% uptime was seen as the “Holy Grail,” a virtually unachievable goal. Today, the “five nines” are seen as table stakes; companies that cannot provide that level of uptime are at a competitive disadvantage. The same is increasingly true of cross-connects; the ability to seamlessly link data centers, whether they are across town, across the country, or around the world, is seen as a must for providers. It's right there on the list with the ability to help companies comply with security, privacy, and trade regulations. Cross-connects are a vital requirement, because they gives companies and their employees the ability to access data and applications regardless of where they are. In addition, a recent 451 Research report shows that almost half of the companies moving toward a colocation strategy are doing so for disaster recovery purposes — to rapidly recover their data when (not if) a failure at the primary production site occurs.
At the same time, additional industry research reveals that more than half of companies surveyed expect to reduce the number of the data centers they operate. Over the next 24 months, more than half of the survey’s respondents said they expect to reduce their plans for their own data centers, either significantly (27%) or somewhat (28%). In addition, another 7% said they expect to close down their data centers entirely. While the survey does not delve into the reasons why companies are cutting back on their own data centers, several factors play into the decision-making process, like the desire to focus their assets on their core competencies as well as the need to lessen their exposure to COVID-19. It’s hardly that less data is being produced, of course.
In fact, Datanami quoted the International Data Corp. as “predicting more than 59 zettabytes of data creation and consumption within the year, and a 26% compound growth rate in data growth through 2024. This massive amount of data — nearly double the data used in 2018 — will be enough that the next three years of data creation and consumption will eclipse that of the previous 30 years.”
The data needs to be stored and accessed from somewhere. And even as companies are increasingly moving workloads to the cloud, they realize that not all of that data can be moved into that kind of an environment. There are too many rules and regulations around the world, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and many more, mandating that companies must know and maintain control of where the data resides. Simply saying “it’s in the cloud” is not enough.
This is where colocation sites are increasingly playing a more important role. Data centers must provide a full range of carrier options, enabling companies to connect both within the facility and with other data centers wherever they may be. And, yes, they must provide a direct on-ramp to the cloud.
Today’s advanced firms are delivering these full-fledged connectivity suites with offerings, such as blended IP, regional connect, extend connect, and cloud connect. By offering this wide range of services, providers are enabling their clients to formulate a strategy that will not only work today but will also accommodate their needs as data requirements grow.
All in all, the very nature of data centers, their abilities, and their requirements are evolving by the day. Gartner recently published an opinion piece, which said, “Your data center may not be dead, but it’s morphing.” The analysts predicted hybrid cloud strategy will mushroom by 2025, with 85% of companies blending colo, cloud, and edge. All of these requirements will dictate a vastly different approach to the traditional role of data centers if they are to meet their customers’ evolving needs.
Those needs have accelerated as the result of the COVID pandemic. More than ever, the work-from-home strategy is being implemented to a far greater degree than virtually anyone could have predicted, requiring companies to deliver the increased connectivity capabilities mentioned above over a far greater geographic area with a minimum of latency and maximum of uptime. And there are multiple signs that this will still be the rule even after COVID has been tamed. Companies that can anticipate and deliver on these demands will have moved beyond the traditional “data center” moniker and be in position to succeed in the long run.