For many businesses, the data centre is critical to a successful day-to-day operation. But data centres are under pressure with not only the volume of data they have to store and process for a business but also rising power costs, new environmental responsibilities which need to be adhered to, data centre technologies evolving rapidly, and escalating costs of security, cooling, connectivity, management and maintenance. This means for many businesses when they reach a certain capacity in their data centre the IT department can no longer simply ask finance for the funds to build another one. Instead they need to explore other options and usually it comes down to a choice of two things – retrofit the existing data centre or switch to a co-location provider.
At Wanstor we understand for many businesses there are a number of ‘non-negotiables’ when it comes to the performance of their data centres.
Maintaining stable, secure power – Evolving technologies and changing service requirements affect power and cooling demands. Today’s data centre energy costs are substantial. At Wanstor we have seen some customers spending upwards of 70% of their operational costs just to keep an existing data centre operation running smoothly. Finding a way to control those costs is often a significant driver for businesses to move to hosted data centre solutions.
Redundancy and reliability – Most data centres have backup options for power in case of outages (UPS and a diesel generator). Many businesses spend a lot of time having to upgrade these assets each year to make sure they are in line with their data centres’ changing power requirements.
Keeping data safe – At Wanstor we believe data can be used in a variety of ways to transform a business, but how it is stored, managed and maintained means there is another side to it – RISK. Privacy has to be protected. Confidential information must be safeguarded. Industry compliancy requirements, UK and EU regulations must be met. IT Managers need to know if their company’s data is stored on UK soil. Additionally the constant stream of new developments in IT and physical security due to the continued evolution of IT security threats means that many IT Managers are not confident their own data centres and systems are as secure as possible.
Growth vs Cost – Expand too quickly or too much and the IT Manager risks wasting resources. Limit growth and the IT Manager risks inhibiting a business’s potential. Building a brand-new data centre will give the IT Manager the flexibility to customise a build for their business. However the offset of all the advantages of a newly built data centre are usually wiped out by the finance team when they see the high costs of construction involved, the difficulties in selecting the right build partner and lack of appropriate locations. Indeed as so much is expected of modern day data centres only large enterprises appear to be building them in today’s market. This is backed by Forrester Research which estimates co-location is 37% less expensive than building your own data centre, based on costs over a 15-year period. This means for many small and medium sized companies, the only real solution available to them when they run out of data centre space is to outsource to a co-location provider.
Is hosting the right choice for your business?
For many small and medium sized businesses, moving to a hosted data centre model can be an effective way of offsetting the challenges associated with operating and maintaining their own data centre. At Wanstor we believe IT Managers should examine the types of questions below before deciding whether or not a hosting solution is the right choice for their business. The questions below should help an IT Manager gain a relatively quick view on insource vs outsource regarding their data centres after having answered these questions:
What are you looking to achieve with your data centre operations?
- Address increasing power and cooling requirements?
- Maximise uptime, availability and redundancy?
- Keep technology up to date in an ever changing world?
- Strengthen physical and data security?
- Increase capacity whilst reducing power costs?
- Investigate ways to optimise operational performance across systems and people?
- Make sure IT teams are focussed on core business offerings?
- Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of IT resource management and support?
- Create a predictable cost model?
- Reduce operational complexity and risk?
By defining what IT and the business wants to achieve with a new data centre, IT Managers can then scope the solution their business needs. Quite often when financial metrics are applied to outcomes IT Managers will conclude that outsourcing to a co-location provider is usually a third cheaper than building a new data centre themselves. This means in the majority of cases the decision will be made to outsource to a co-location provider.
Once the decision to outsource data centre operations to a co-location provider has been made, it is important for the IT Manager to take the time to understand the key characteristics of a dependable co-location data centre. At Wanstor we believe when evaluating a provider’s facilities, IT Managers need to take a close look at the data centre’s capabilities, strengths and potential weaknesses.
From our extensive experience at Wanstor we believe important questions to ask a potential co-location provider include:
What tier ranking is the facility designed to meet? Does your business really need a Tier 4 facility (which you pay a significant amount more for) or will a Tier 3 data centre suffice?
What is your downtime tolerance level and can the facility meet your businesses uptime needs? Remember downtime can affect your business – in terms of revenue, customer experience and brand image.
What security measures are in place? As hosted data centres share multiple customers, advanced security features should be in place including 24/7 x 365 on-site security, network security (intrusion detection, virtualized firewalls and load balancers), and the ability to monitor lines for traffic. At Wanstor we always recommend that IT Managers take the time to discover how much control a provider has over the network that will be delivering hosted data centre services. Additionally it would be wise to ask about managed protection against DDoS attacks, event management and any other security services essential to your business.
Scalability – What are the options? As a business grows, it will need more data centre space and scalable capacity. Additionally any hosted data centre facility that is chosen should be able to adopt new technologies quickly. Cloud services and fully-managed virtualized environments offer many businesses an opportunity to enhance scalability and refocus key IT resources on revenue generating activities. You may not need these services today, but having your data hosted is usually a long-term decision because moving is expensive and risky. So IT Managers need to think beyond the initial contract term and make sure they have room to grow, and some allowance to meet future needs.
Auditing – When transferring data and applications to a data centre, the IT department are also transferring compliance responsibilities. Therefore the IT Manager should check that their data centre provider has the relevant compliance certifications and ask for proof of them.
Power consumption model – Service reliability will depend on a co-location provider’s ability to measure, monitor and allocate power usage. In an over-subscription power allocation model, a single reading is used for the entire data centre. Unused power from one customer can be resold to another and spikes in power demand from other customers can drain your resources. In the power reservation model, you get the total capacity you’ve paid for, whether or not you use it. You’ll always have enough energy to run your systems, and close monitoring ensures the provider can quickly detect and respond to any increases in your demand. This prevents the situation where one customer has the ability to affect another customer’s environment.
What environmental initiatives are included? Integrated sustainable energy technology is good both for operational cost savings and the environment. Time should be taken to consider the co-location providers environmental track record, look for advancements such as virtualized environments, use of free cooling solutions and heat exchangers. All of these can be reliable, cost-effective alternatives to traditional technologies. Many service providers today aspire to improve their power usage effectiveness (PUE), an industry measure of energy efficiency. A service provider with good PUE will also help keep power costs down.
Connectivity – The network linking a provider’s data centres is a critical component of their offering. Data centres typically process large volumes of traffic, and the network that connects the data centres, to each other and to the business needs to sustain volumes reliably and securely at all times. The physical location of data centres is also important, as providers often space out their facilities to minimise the risk of a mass disruption. But many data centre applications are sensitive to latency. The further your data needs to travel, the more likely it is that delay may become an issue. Therefore evaluating the connectivity performance and options from a data co-location provider is crucial.
Beyond the characteristics of the data centre itself, the IT Manager will also want to be confident in a provider’s ability to meet business needs. Other questions the IT Manager should be asking alongside exploring the key areas above include:
What kind of network does the provider operate? How does the network cope with spikes in demand? What are the latency levels for different applications?
What kind of service-level agreements (SLAs) are offered? Are the hosting and connectivity service levels aligned and through the same provider. If they’re not aligned this could spell trouble as one service may operate better than the other leaving a range of performance issues.
Are professional services available to help with understanding technology options/upgrades? One size does not fit all. The right data centre provider will assess your needs, current capabilities and future plans, and will work with you to find a solution that meets your unique business goals.
Can services be scaled quickly and easily? IT needs will continue to evolve that is for certain and not always in ways the IT Manager can predict. Look for power and capacity that can be scaled quickly, giving you the energy, space and bandwidth you need to grow your business.
Does the provider offer virtual hosting and cloud solutions? Dedicating a server to each application and configuring it to handle peak loads can be inefficient. Moving your applications to a virtual server farm can help keep costs low and give you the advantage of architectural flexibility. Virtual solutions also scale up quickly and easily, without requiring the IT Manager to invest in any hardware. Look for a provider equipped with the latest virtual service offerings, such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which gives IT complete control over capacity and charges only for the services used.
Does the provider invest continually in infrastructure and cloud capabilities? One of the benefits of moving to a hosted data centre model is taking advantage of new technology. A good provider will constantly invest in upgrades and advances e.g. by integrating cloud capabilities or adopting the latest innovations in physical and data security.
Are costs predictable? Working with a data centre provider will give you access to a sophisticated infrastructure without incurring significant capital costs. Make sure the monthly costs associated with the hosted service are stable and predictable, challenge anything out of the norm such as unforeseen maintenance requirements for example.
This article should help IT Managers think about co-location data centre solutions when they are reaching the limits of their own data centre infrastructure. For more information about Wanstor data centre co-location services download our brochure here.