Colocation services underpin much of today’s information society, providing the data centre infrastructure from which digital business and consumer applications are delivered. As such it is a market that is growing overall and will certainly continue to do so in the short-to-medium term.
Nevertheless, providers of collocation services face a number of challenges as well as opportunities. These encompass business issues such as the changing face of those who purchase their services and the structure of the colocation industry itself as well as technical requirements which include Edge Computing, Cloud Computing and the impact of data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) software.
In many cases, the lines of demarcation between business and technology issues are blurred. A case in point is the subtle change in emphasis of the buyer with whom colocation providers find themselves engaging. In earlier times they tended to be procurement or facilities professionals; today they may be an IT manager, a chief information officer (CIO) or increasingly a business executive which could have a rank as high as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or Chief Executive, depending on the business requirement. There are even new roles emerging such as Chief Digital Officer (CDO) an executive in charge of digital strategies, and usually the change management associated with them, throughout an organisation.
The implication for colocation providers of this diversification among their buyer community is that they must learn to converse with each customer on their own terms. The concerns of IT managers, and the vocabulary they use to express them, may be very different from those of CIOs, CEOs and CDOs. Colocation providers have to speak in many tongues and be equally convincing in each.
Not only are customers evolving into different creatures but the dynamics of the colocation industry itself are changing also. Mergers, acquisitions and partnerships among providers are changing the competitive landscape, causing companies to realign along various market segments such as wholesale, retail, carrier and regional providers. Some are occupying small nice positions whereas others are growing by acquisition into giant international providers.
As such, Colocation providers need to be aware of the moves in their own market and concern themselves in occupying the most advantageous position relevant to their own strengths and competencies.
Next: Big data and IOT
Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT)
Among the emerging trends likely to have a big effect on the colocation market are the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data, both of which have a direct knock-on effect for Edge and Cloud Computing deployments. Each brings opportunities for service providers to expand their offerings and present specialised tailored solutions to organisations seeking to exploit these technologies.
The IoT will require services spanning the full range of the IT stack from infrastructure, namely computing power and data storage; through middleware including new IoT protocols, integration and platforms; to logic and data including applications, data analytics and business process management. Given the broad level of services required to exploit IoT, many companies in the space are likely to prefer engaging with service providers such as colocation companies rather than build their own competencies in house.
Furthermore the sheer volume of data generated by IoT will necessitate the building of networks to collect data from sensors, cameras and other acquisition points. The opportunities to help organisations build these networks and to collect, aggregate and analyse the ensuing data generated are self evident.
There are of course challenges associated with exploiting the Big Data from the IoT. Data will be collected from thousands of disparate devices located throughout the world. It is unlikely to form an orderly stream; on the contrary it is more likely to be erratic in nature, sometimes arriving in torrents and other times at a trickle. Capacity planning will be a vital asset and the challenges that it presents will be overcome using an optimum mix of Edge and Cloud Computing deployments,
From the earliest days of the Internet people have drawn analogies with a motorway network with high-capacity motorways (backbones) complementing smaller main roads and eventually minor roads and lanes. Edge Computing is a trend emerging in response to the need to divert unnecessary local traffic away from global data backbones feeding giant data centres and routeing it through local networks that are better suited for its purpose.
Edge Computing moves data acquisition, computing and storage resources closer to their end users. In the case of IoT, Edge Computing distributes loads closer to the devices that are producing data to reduce latency. It requires smaller data centres and therefore presents an opportunity for colocation providers to offer local diversified solutions to complement their larger data centres.
Given the nature of IoT data traffic, with small amounts of data being generated by vast numbers of devices it makes sense, rather than have all that data sent to a single central location, to route it to smaller data centres distributed throughout a number of regions so that it can be collected and processed locally. This not only relieves congestion on global backbones but also addresses local latency issues.
Edge Computing data centres are also ideal on and off ramps to Cloud Computing providers which is the other main option for capacity planning. Due to its elastic nature, Cloud is a natural fit for IoT implementations as it is more easily able to handle variations in traffic levels. Cloud implementations are also a good fit for the compute-intensive tasks such as data analytics that will be prevalent in IoT environments.
Colocation providers can interact with the Cloud in a number of ways: either by offering Cloud-based services themselves, partnering with existing Cloud providers or simply by providing the essential infrastructure for Cloud providers to use.
Next: The age of data centre management
The age of DCIM
As the services demanded by COLO customers continue to evolve and diversify, management of their assets becomes a vitally important competitive element. Here, the ability to monitor and manage all aspects of a data centre’s infrastructure is becoming essential not only from the point of view of efficient use of their systems internally but also to provide billable value-added services to their customers.
By embracing Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software tools, colocation providers can bring consistency, predictability and control to operational metrics while also improving service assurance. DCIM allows service providers to convert metrics into meaningful analytics from centralising data collection, managing physical capacity and assets and integrating with critical IT management applications. DCIM unifies the processes tools and raw data needed to provide an accurate view of data centre performance embracing both IT and support facilities.
One consequence is that DCIM can give multi-tenant environments access to advanced power and full infrastructure monitoring and assure each tenant of the status and health of their individually allocated IT resources. Providers may offer reports such as statistics on data centre operations, the physical location of servers, update reports on the environment including metrics such as PUE and figures on power and cooling consumption.
Standardisation and custom data centre designs
Given the rapid growth and diversification of data centres, the ability to react quickly to changes in customer demand, especially in terms of capacity, is becoming a key issue for data centre operators.
This means that flexibility has to be built into a data centre from the start so that the contrasting challenges of insufficient capacity on the one hand or “stranded”, ie unused, capacity on the other are avoided.
Inevitably this is generating an increased interest in modular capacity so that server and storage space, along with attendant infrastructure, can be added or subtracted quickly and efficiently according to need. Prefabricated modular data centre infrastructure, comprising standardised server, power and cooling facilities has emerged as a partial solution to this challenge, providing further evidence that in today’s world one size does not fit all in data centres, whether they are located at the Edge or at the centre of a network.
Matthew Baynes, is Director, Offer & Business Development Cloud & Service Provider Segment Global Solutions, Schneider Electric