By Darren Watkins, Managing Director for VIRTUS Data Centres
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust data centres onto the public stage, having been for many years the invisible utility provider. As home working, home schooling and online shopping have become the norm over the past eighteen months, digital services became as important as other main public utilities – and the infrastructure which supports them has been put under the spotlight like never before. Data centres in some countries across Europe – including Denmark, Germany, France, Norway and the UK – are now classified as critical national infrastructure (CNI).
Organisations in all sectors, from large multi-national corporations to smaller enterprise businesses have realised that they simply cannot take any risks with their data centre strategies and have set about the task of finding the best-in-class operators with whom they should entrust this critical requirement.
But with so much choice out there, making that decision isn’t always easy. So how do companies go about selecting a reliable data centre partner? And how can they make sure that they choose a provider who is able to serve their needs not just now, but in an uncertain future too?
Dealing with the unexpected
If the pandemic has taught the business world one thing, it’s that being able to cope with the unexpected and unplanned is critical. To meet this need, data centre partners must provide assurances around uptime and availability, reliability and disaster recovery – demonstrating that whatever happens, they can help businesses keep running 24/7/365.
It’s here where experience really matters. No matter how much planning has been implemented, how innovative the design of the data centre 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 years of learnings – that ensure customer experience isn’t negatively impacted when these events occur. Only with experience and longevity leading to operational excellence can providers build robust processes, tried and tested in live scenarios, to ensure the best possible levels of service.
The big capacity challenge
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, demand for broadband communication services has soared, with some operators experiencing as much as a 60% increase in internet traffic compared to before the crisis. And, even now that the world begins to tentatively reopen, the explosion of data is unlikely to diminish. Remote (or hybrid) working is set to be embraced for the long term, by companies that 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.
Obviously, all of this extra online traffic puts intense pressure on the infrastructure – security, servers, storage and network – of any organisation. IT departments need to deploy more forward-looking capacity management if they are to proactively meet their current and future needs. This means selecting a data centre partner that can provide enough capacity for the digital world and its demands, and adapt and flex to their customers’ constantly changing needs. And importantly, it means seeking out providers who can guarantee this for the long term.
Making the industry sustainable
Data centres are among the most power-hungry industries and it is therefore no surprise that the data centre industry is under increased pressure to conform to a number of strict environmental objectives.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of good work being done to address these sustainability targets. One key area of success is within the use of renewable energy as many forward-looking providers move away from fossil fuels for the long term. Some providers are committing to using 100% zero carbon power – benefiting from increases in sustainability, reliability and cost effectiveness. Power-hungry elements like cooling are fast evolving too. The forward looking and experienced operators have been using techniques like indirect adiabatic cooling for some time, which provide the cooling functionality data centres need, but with very low energy use.
However, it should be noted that there are many ‘shades of green’ and not all providers are able to deliver a ‘cradle to grave’ sustainability strategy, where environmental ambitions are built into every step of data centre construction and operational management. Many less experienced providers rely on trying to retrofit or bolt on discrete initiatives, or buying certified power.
An experienced approach to innovation
When looking to the future, as with most sectors, the data centre industry is fast evolving and continually innovating. From cooling systems, to security, to monitoring, data centres providers must constantly use their experience and learned knowledge to innovate and improve. Trends like immersion cooling, back-up power and generator solutions are all interesting areas for the future, and sustainability will continue to be important as providers work to secure a greener future.
Innovation must be a priority not just now, but also in the future. Data centre providers must keep using their experience to innovate if they are to meet the needs of both new and their longest serving customers. Of course, the most established providers can draw on years of experience in order to fuel their innovation strategies – building on their work with customers to cultivate meaningful improvements and innovations.
With the spotlight firmly on data centres, the relationship between customers and their data centre partner is crucial. Selecting an expert provider that can not only meet your demands – but that can prove its credentials based on past experience – is a business-critical decision.
The key indicator of success is experience – a proven track record in delivering reliable, scalable and robust services. There are many eye catching new builds, and new names in the market, but it’s those providers that have shown they’re able to deliver on capacity challenges, service reliability, security, uptime and innovation, who will ultimately prove to be the best long term partners.