By Darren Watkins, managing director for VIRTUS Data Centres

As governments and health organizations across the world attempt to battle the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, normal life has effectively ground to a halt. As citizens now rely on collaborative technology to stay in touch with friends, family and workmates, few can doubt the importance of digital infrastructure in our lives right now. 

For individual businesses, the stakes are also high. Companies that have gotten their data center strategy right will now benefit from an intelligent and scalable asset that helps them to keep the show on the road.

Considering the extra pressure put on the infrastructure, so far it has coped with the surge in demand for capacity, and a robust infrastructure is one of the few positive stories to emerge during the crisis. There have been few outages in this time, and many businesses have been able to keep functioning by moving much of their operations online. The data center industry, a critical component of infrastructure, is fueling this success — providing the ability to store, manipulate and access the vast amounts of data that the digital world requires.

Organizations tend to stay with their selected data center provider for a significant time period, so having the right data center strategy that can cope with demand, whether it’s during or post pandemic, is critical. Here are some key considerations:

  • What type of service do you need?

The build vs. buy debate is firmly over. Colocation or managed services have already won the day over on-premises solutions, allowing businesses to focus on their core business operations and reduce their capital investment on infrastructure construction. The benefits of colocation during this pandemic are particularly pertinent, as colocation partners are able to take full responsibility for a company’s physical environment. By removing the need to have data center personnel physically working on site, companies can keep people safe and maintain control of mission-critical infrastructure.

Furthermore, to cope with the increased digital traffic associated with the COVID-19 lockdown, the best colocation providers are able to deliver fully redundant network connections, ensuring that customers’ business-critical applications always run uninterrupted. This is vital for businesses in every sector of the economy, but it is particularly important for industries like e-commerce where access demands are the lifeblood of the business.

  • Location, location, location (and what that really means)

Today, businesses rightly expect low-latency and reliability from their data center providers with zero tolerance for downtime – being connected and always-on is critical.

A key factor for making this efficiency and reliability happen is location. A good choice of location means an optimized infrastructure and application environment, as well as reduced costs, while poor location can result in unstable connections and efficiency problems.

In the wake of the Coronavirus, it’s important to remember that working practices, legislation and attitudes to working conditions and or safety can vary significantly from country to country. Similarly, rules regarding remote working, remote access to data and on-site attendance can vary widely depending on where you’re operating. When it comes to end users, whose digital usage has increased and changed during the lockdown, their demands also need to be paramount. Low latency, access to good networks and power and guarantees of 100 percent uptime have become basic needs. In this respect, location has perhaps never mattered more. 

  • A focus on security

A growing number of cyber criminals and other malicious groups online are exploiting the COVID-19 outbreak for their own personal gain, security officials in the UK and USA have revealed. A joint advisory published by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security shows that cyber criminals and advanced persistent threat (APT) groups are targeting individuals and organizations with a range of ransomware and malware.

With malicious attacks a particularly prominent threat under today’s circumstances, it’s crucial that a data center provider can guarantee that they’ll keep mission-critical company data safe. Yet, it’s not just cybersecurity that’s important. Physical security – keeping the criminals from physically accessing servers – is also essential. Any data center should be designed, built and maintained to withstand everything from corporate espionage, to terrorists, to natural disasters, to thieves trying to make a fast buck. 

During times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, data center providers must have stringent Business Continuity Plans in place, which can quickly and effectively be deployed, ensuring that security isn’t compromised — no matter the external factors. 

  • Flexibility

If there’s one thing that has characterized this pandemic, it’s uncertainty. For businesses, and their relationships with data center providers, this means that flexibility is crucial. Even before the pandemic, long-term, rigid data center contracts were no longer palatable for many global cloud and digital organizations where the fast pace of business and technology required them to change direction quickly. 

From an inability to model when the virus might peak in each country, to long-term doubt about when the nation will be able to get back to some level of pre-pandemic normality – it’s been difficult for experts to predict what is likely to happen next in these unprecedented times. As a result, right now, the ability to flex and scale as required is increasingly critical. 

If enterprises and IT agility are held back by antiquated and inflexible data center platforms or contracts, they won’t be able to react quickly in line with fast-changing business plans – a serious concern today.

As we move through this period of extreme uncertainty, the relationship with data center providers is critical. The companies that get their data center strategy right will ultimately stand the best chance of keeping the show on the road. Those who fail to do so are most likely to face insurmountable challenges when it comes to business continuity, uptime, resilience and scalability. 

To succeed, it’s important to ensure that your data center partner is fulfilling all your needs. Is it taking all the necessary steps to prevent any downtime? Does it have connectivity to the right partners? Is it taking the right precautions to ensure physical, process and digital security in this testing period? Importantly, does your partnership give you the ability to plan for the future once this period is finally over?