Data Center Strategy

EQUINIX - Executive Team Player

Mark Adams, Chief Development Officer, Equinix, says:

I advise international businesses on their global data center strategies, discussions that generally begin with the reality that successful strategies can’t be static. They must adapt to the changing needs of your applications and your traffic so that your end users are getting fast and reliable performance. Your strategies must ensure your applications and computer infrastructure perform from anywhere on the planet, finding a sweet spot in which design, data centers and network capacity work together seamlessly while being flexible and scalable. So, how do you achieve these types of results? Here’s a quick guide to the key questions every global data center strategy must address.

1)    How will applications be optimized and deployed for global delivery?

Great coaches understand every aspect of their teams. They identify the strengths of each player on the roster and can then assemble ideal line-ups for every situation that arises during the game. In the same way, a CIO predicates an effective global data center strategy on a thorough understanding of who is using the data and how they’re accessing it.

Versatility is essential. One strategy will definitely not meet everyone’s needs. When users are accessing information from all over the globe, application performance can vary greatly depending on their location. The strategy must optimize access based on who needs information and how fast they need it. This involves isolating information that must be maintained in a central location from information that can be housed regionally to allow users quicker interactions with the system.

To optimize global delivery, you also have to keep in mind how users interact with the data. Are they looking at it on a tablet during a layover or on a laptop at their desk? If an application is difficult to use on the devices your users rely on most, it does no one any good.

2)    How will network connectivity be optimized?

This question must always be at the forefront of a CIO’s brain. For global corporations, network connectivity is a huge factor in the consistency of users’ application experience. A CIO should determine where users are situated with the best high-speed network connectivity, and fully take advantage of this synergy. Tailor the location of data hubs around fast network connectivity. There’s no point in aggregating data if you can’t use it when you need to. Fast connections allow businesses to quickly collect data from the field into a centralized hub and then turn around and disseminate it to users. That means ensuring that all centralized data centers have exceptional connectivity. It can also mean utilizing efficiencies from a Content Delivery Network (CDN). This is especially pertinent with migration onto cloud platforms: The efficiency of cloud applications is inextricably dependent on quality network connectivity.

Global corporations typically like to have two major hubs in each region where they are active.   This gives them the advantages of aggregating their traffic with increased coverage, enabling dramatic improvements in performance and reliability while reducing costs.   Finding the right cities is easier than you may think. In Latin America, key cities like Rio de Janiero and São Paulo both have excellent network connectivity and are at the heart of Latin American business and Internet traffic. In Europe, we find that London, Frankfurt and Amsterdam all offer outstanding connectivity and are attractive colocation markets for covering a European footprint. Frankfurt offers outstanding connectivity if your traffic is headed towards Eastern Europe – it’s the telcom hub for the region. Asia is a little more challenging given the diversity of the region. We find many companies hub in Japan due to the size of the market, and Singapore as an access point to Southeast Asia. But if you have a lot of traffic going into China, Hong Kong or even potentially Shanghai are the right markets to be in. Some new hubs are developing in the Middle East; Dubai is an outstanding transit point for traffic headed from Europe over to India and Asia and they have recently launched dramatically reduced bandwidth pricing for international traffic.

3)    What is the role of the cloud in the short-, medium- and long-term?

View cloud infrastructure as an opportunity as well as a challenge. The benefits extend beyond cost savings. Cloud platforms offer businesses freedom in customizable form. Because of cloud technology, global businesses no longer have to create their own data centers. With the development of a virtual private cloud, a business can run 100 servers inside an outsourced data center in a central location and not have to manage its own unwieldy data center. At the very least, companies can avoid data center expansion. By moving to the cloud, companies end up paying for only what they use. This directly leads to increased efficiency.

The number of applications that can be hosted in the cloud is large and increasing. This allows companies to experiment until they find the strategy that works for them. With software as-a service (SaaS), users can access applications anytime, anywhere, without having to download or rely on any software.

Of course, it’s worth noting that even well respected public cloud offerings do have outages from time to time. The savvy CIO won’t rush the organization wholeheartedly into the cloud. Being responsible for data performance and mission-critical applications, the CIO needs to be the “adult supervision” for the organization’s experiments with the cloud. Some providers simply don’t offer a credible SLA on performance. As a CIO, you must ask yourself, “How much exposure am I willing to take on?” and “What are the ways I can reduce risk exposure while continuing to try and test new ways to get operational efficiency and flexibility from the cloud?”

The fact that so much experimentation is possible with cloud technology also means that, through trial and error, businesses can optimize their data strategy with very few infrastructure investments. If a company needs more security, a CIO can opt for a private cloud. If an application is still new and untested, a public cloud may be a better option. Clouds allow users to publish vast amounts of data, drawing on a wide array of sources without the delays associated with traditional corporate data centers. Companies can then draw on this information to make decisions in real time. Ultimately, in the short-, medium- and long-term, networks must be centered on cloud technology.

4)    How does a company get out of the real estate business?

It’s really pretty simple: if you’re not a real estate corporation, get out of the real estate business. In this day and age, unless your business has the size, reach and data warehousing needs of Google, Microsoft or Amazon, it’s irrational to weigh yourself down with the responsibilities associated with being a property owner. The only reason to build a dedicated data center is when there is a stable business need that is unlikely to change for 15 to 20 years. Can you confidently say you have such a need?

The challenge for business today is to have a flexible infrastructure that can migrate and adjust along with business demands.  In private clouds, the amount of required capacity may change rapidly, so the more your private cloud can be offloaded to a flexible third party provider, the better.

Looking toward the future, we will see more companies use private clouds to drastically shrink or even eliminate the physical data centers the business owns. By tapping into a private cloud, a business can realize almost all of the benefits of an on-premise data center — running a secure environment with a high degree of control — without having to deal with the drawbacks of property management. Obviously, this saves money. But it also enables a business to avoid unnecessary headaches and focus on core operations. The point is to maximize data for competitive advantage, not to be saddled with physical infrastructure.

5)    How do you comply with contrasting national regulations?

This is a question that’s only going to become more acute for businesses over time. Governments are playing catch-up when it comes to regulation of data-gathering and Internet technologies. So a global data strategy must be nimble. Businesses must be willing and able to customize their data collection and storage methods based on the origin of the data and be ready to change strategies quickly.

The four key issues you’ll need to consider are:

  • Data Sovereignty: Swiss banking laws, the U.S. Patriot Act, and other laws require data to reside in designated locations. In some countries, to comply with financial regulations, businesses have to store data in the country where it’s collected—even if it lives in the cloud.
  • Service location: Some countries, such as China, won’t allow certain services to be run within their borders, even if those services can be accessed from within the country.
  • Tax implications: Where your transaction engines are based and where your customers are based may be two different jurisdictions, and that may have tax implications.
  • Privacy regulations. As consumer concerns around data security continue to increase, nations may begin to enact stricter privacy laws, and will become more complicated as companies expand the range of data they collect and the number of geographical regions they serve.

Businesses must build their data infrastructure with these issues in mind.

6)    How do I find the right platforms when technology evolves so quickly?

It’s hugely frustrating to be a CIO who has just completed a six-month analysis and implementation of a technology, only to find it has just been eclipsed by something better. But global businesses don’t have to navigate these questions on their own. Your data center provider can help, and there are a number of ways to shop for the data center that’s right for you

Diverse data center options: Most data center providers today offer their own platforms. Committing to that provider means you’re also committing to that provider’s technology curve. It’s best to go with a data center, or multiple locations, which allow you to cherry-pick the services you need from its other tenants. Different needs necessitate different data centers, and a global business should never be pigeonholed into locations that provide only partial solutions.

Specialized expertise: A good provider partners with best-of-breed application developers to offer enhanced services for almost any data challenge, including mission-critical application and content distribution problems. Regardless of the technical nature of the problem, whom you choose to collocate with should ensure through its key partnerships that its customers get immediate solutions.

Security and control: In addition to offering swift interconnections to applications and new business opportunities, the best data centers don’t touch your data; they are mere repositories of it. This gives companies continued full ownership of their data and infrastructure while ensuring security in the cloud option of their choice.

A guide to migration: When establishing a global data center strategy, enterprises face a litany of decisions. Your provider should offer solution architects as guides for your particular decision matrix, the end result being  a robust and flexible infrastructure for growth so that businesses can seize technological opportunities as they materialize. This doesn’t happen overnight and going back to my point about versatility, your business should ideally be housed within a data center also home to new cloud platforms such that you can discover better solutions as your business morphs and expands. When businesses find a strategy that makes sense, they’re already collaborating with a partner who understands how to help them ensure that all that data makes it through the migration to the new platform without a hitch.