Friday, 17th September 2021
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Data centres under the spotlight – why experience matters

For those working in technology, it’s long been recognised that data centres are the backbone of the digital economy, but Coronavirus saw the industry thrust into the public eye on a much wider scale. We’ve seen data centre operators deemed to be critical workers, and witnessed debate into whether all data centres should be classed as Critical National Infrastructure. By Darren Watkins, Managing Director for VIRTUS Data Centres

As a global community, our reliance on technology during the pandemic has brought the industry into sharp focus, and data centres are now firmly on the boardroom agenda. Organisations have realised that they can’t 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. Organisations of all sizes are now looking for data centre partners that can be trusted to deliver robust, efficient, scalable facilities and cope with any situation.

So how do companies go about selecting a reliable data centre partner? And how can they make sure that the provider is able to serve their needs not just now, but as they scale, grow and potentially change their business models to meet market demand?

Under the current circumstances, the ability to cope with any situation is key and the primary indicator is experience. Businesses must ensure they choose a data centre partner that has a solid and relevant track record in delivering consistency in product and service, over time and in the regions that are important to them.

While there are plenty of eye-catching new builds and new names in the market, it’s knowing what really works that makes the critical difference. This article will now look at how the most experienced providers are harnessing all of this know-how for their customers, large and small, locally and globally.

The big capacity challenge

When it comes to the explosion of ecommerce and widespread remote working, the business world isn’t in a hurry to put the genie back in the bottle when life gets back to “normal”. We’re likely to see remote (or hybrid) working embraced for the long term, by companies who 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.

However, all 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.

A brighter shade of green

While the pandemic has brought the direct and indirect economic benefits of data centres into sharp focus, we can’t get away from the fact that the industry is power intensive. The power demands of the sector are being increasingly scrutinised, but the good news is that a close look reveals an industry that is leading the charge to a more energy efficient world.

Many forward-looking providers are moving away from fossil fuels and harnessing renewable energy. And some are committing to using 100 per cent zero carbon power – benefiting from increases sustainability, reliability and cost effectiveness. Power hungry elements like cooling are fast evolving too. Trailblazing 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, in assessing providers’ sustainability promises, experience is once again crucial. It’s the data centre providers with ambitious sustainability targets that can simultaneously deliver on customer demands that are best placed to provide the service needed today. The most experienced providers are committed to delivering a “cradle to grave” sustainability strategy, where environmental ambitions are built into every step of data centre construction and operational management including maintenance - rather than trying to retrofit or bolt on discrete initiatives, or just buying certified power.

Learning from the past and looking to the future

Experience really shows its value when things go wrong. No matter how much planning has been done, 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 can providers build robust processes, tried and tested in live scenarios, to ensure the best possible levels of service.

When looking to the future, as with most sectors, the data centre industry is fast evolving and constant price pressure affects businesses across the board, so it is the responsibility of all organisations to invest time and money in research and development. For data centres, every aspect of their solutions must be considered - from cooling systems, to security, to monitoring. Data centres are the sum of many parts and each supporting industry must constantly use their knowledge and experience to innovate and improve. It is only the most experienced data centre providers that are in a position to take the learnings of every design, build and operations project they have undertaken and develop best practice and new strategies, based on years of learnings.

Trends like immersion cooling, back-up power and generator solutions are all interesting areas for the future. Whilst sustainability will continue to be an important concern to be reviewed and addressed by all businesses, it will be the responsibility of everyone to continue to investigate what can be done to help mitigate climate change; for example, carbon neutral is the stated position of many providers, but the more forward thinking are looking to go further and become carbon zero. Other areas under review include alternative sources of back-up power and the wider adoption of fuel cells as a standby energy source. To date nothing is workable at the scale needed for large data centres, but research continues. 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.

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It is clear that there has never been a more critical time for data centre providers, but arguably there has also never been this level of scrutiny and pressure to deliver. As we move through an extended period of post-pandemic uncertainty, it’s the digital infrastructure that is going to keep most if not all businesses, and ultimately, the economy running. 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 now, more than ever, a business-critical decision.


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