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Time to get on the Colocation Train Before it is Too Late

The data center industry is heading toward an inflection point that has significant impact on enterprises. It seems many aren’t looking far enough ahead, but the timeline appears to be 12-18 months, which is not that far out! The issue is a typical supply chain issue of supply, demand and timelines.

A CHANGE IN THE WINDS

First, let’s start with a bit of background… The advent of Cloud Computing and newer technologies, are driving an increase in the number of enterprises looking to ‘get out of the data center business. I, along with others, have presented many times about ‘Death of the Data Center.’ The data center, which used to serve as a strategic weapon in an enterprise IT org’s arsenal, is still very much critical, but fundamentally becoming a commodity. That’s not to say that the overall data center services are becoming a commodity, but the facility is. Other factors, such as the geographic footprint, network and ecosystem are becoming the real differentiators. And enterprises ‘in the know’ realize they can’t compete at the same level as today’s commercial data center facility providers.

THE TWO FLAVORS OF COLOCATION

Commercial data center providers offer two basic models of data center services: Wholesale and Retail. Digital Realty and DuPont Fabros are examples of major wholesale data center space and Equinix, Switch, IO, Savvis and QTS are examples of major retail colocation providers. It should be noted that some providers provide both wholesale and retail offerings. While there is a huge difference between wholesale and retail colocation space, I will leave the details on why an enterprise might consider one over the other for another post.

DATA CENTER SUPPLY, DEMAND AND TIMELINES

The problem is still the same for both types of data center space: there is a bit of surplus today, but there won’t be enough capacity in the near term. Data center providers are adding capacity around the globe, but they’re caught in a conundrum of how much capacity to build. It typically takes anywhere between 2-4 years to build a new data center and bring it online. And the demand isn’t there to support significant growth yet.

But if you read the tea leaves, the demand is getting ready to pop. Many folks are only now starting to consider their options with cloud and other services. So, why are data center providers not building data centers now in preparation for the pop? There are two reasons: On the supply side, it costs a significant amount of capital to build a data center today and having an idle data center burns significant operational expenses too. On the demand side, enterprises are just starting to evaluate colocation options. Evaluating is different from ready to commit spending on colocation services.

Complicating matters further, even for the most aggressive enterprises, the preparation can take months and the migrations years in the making. Moving a data center is not a trivial exercise and often peppered with significant risk. There are applications, legacy requirements, 3rd party providers, connections, depreciation schedules, architectures, organization, process and governance changes to consider…just to name a few. In addition to the technical challenges, organizations and applications are typically not geared up to handle multi-day outages and moves of this nature. Ponder this: When was the last time your IT team moved a critical business application from one location to another? What about multiple applications? The reality is: it just doesn’t happen often…if at all.

But just because it’s hard, does not mean it should not be done. In this case, it needs to be done. At this point, every organization on the planet should have a plan for colocation and/or cloud. Of course there are exceptions and corner cases, but today they are few and shrinking.

COMPLIANCE AND REGULATORY CONCERNS

Those with compliance and regulatory requirements are moving too…and not just non-production or Disaster Recovery systems. Financial Services organizations are already moving their core banking systems into colocation. While Healthcare organizations are moving their Electronic Health Records (EHR) and Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems into colocation…and in some cases, the cloud. This is in addition to any core legacy and greenfield applications. The compliance and regulatory requirements are an additional component to consider, not a reason to stop moving.

TIME CHANGES DATA CENTER THINKING

Just five years ago, a discussion of moving to colocation or cloud would have been far more challenging to do. Today, we are starting to see this migration happening. However, it is only happening in very small numbers of IT firms around the globe. We need to significantly increase the number of folks planning and migrating.

DATA CENTER ELASTICITY

On the downside, even if an enterprise started to build their data center strategy and roadmap today, it is unclear if adequate capacity to supply the demand will exist once they’re ready to move. Now, that’s not to say the sky is falling. But it does suggest that enterprises (in mass) need to get on the ball and start planning for death of the data center (their own). At a minimum, it would provider data center providers with greater visibility of the impending demand and timeline. In the best scenario, it provides a healthy ecosystem in the supply/ demand equation without creating a rubber-band effect where supply and demand each fluctuate toward equilibrium.

BUILDING A ROADMAP

The process starts with a vision and understanding of what is truly strategic. Recall that vitally important and strategic can be two different things. Power is vitally important to data centers, but data center providers are not building power plants next to each one.

The next step is building a roadmap that supports the vision. The roadmap includes more than just technological advancements. The biggest initial hurdles will come in the form of organization and process. In addition, a strong visionary and leader will provide the right combination skills to lead the effort and ask the right questions to achieve success.

Part of the roadmap will inevitably include an evaluation of colocation providers. Before you get started down this path, it is important to understand the differences between wholesale and retail colocation providers, what they offer and what your responsibilities are. That last step is often lost as part of the evaluation process.

Truly understand what your requirements are. Space, power and bandwidth are just scratching the surface. Take a holistic view of your environment and portfolio. Understand what and how things will change when moving to colocation. This is as much a clear snapshot of your current situation, as it is where you’re headed over time.

TIME TO GET MOVING

Moving into colocation is a great first-step for many enterprises. It gets them ‘out of the data center’ business while still maintaining their existing portfolio intact. Colocation also provides a great way to move the maturity of an organization (and portfolio) toward cloud.

The evaluation process for colocation services is much different today from just 5 years ago. Today, some of the key differentiators are geographic coverage, network and ecosystem. But a stern warning: The criteria for each enterprise will be different and unique. What applies to one does not necessarily apply to the next. It’s important to clearly understand this and how each provider matches against the requirements.

The process takes time and effort. For this and a number of other reasons, it may take months to years even for the most aggressive movers. As such, it is best to started sooner than later before the train leaves the station.

Further Reading:

Applying Cloud Computing in the Enterprise

Cloud Application Matrix

A Workload is Not a Workload, is Not a Workload