In the early days of the digital era, data centers were mysterious buildings shrouded in secrecy. They were those huge, stark buildings that billowed steam and loomed in the distance. Discretion is understandable considering that for the enterprises using these data centers, their IT operations within were the crown jewels supporting their businesses.
Although some enterprises chose to build and manage their own data centers, others outsourced their IT environment to third-party, multi-tenant colocation data centers, for their shared resources and economies of scale. Those early data centers were relatively simple compared to current designs and the ongoing development. They provided secure data center space, power and connectivity (ping, power and pipe) for companies outsourcing their IT environment.
Since those days, data centers have evolved to support new technology advancements and the related increasing complexities. Many data centers now have become trusted partners to enterprises by also offering expertise that helps leverage the business benefits of virtualization and cloud computing.
Data digitization—also known as digital transformation—took off in its current form about 10 years ago, accelerating steadily ever since. According to Statista, “The amount of data created, captured, copied, and consumed worldwide is expected to grow from around 59 zettabytes (ZB) in 2020 to around 149 ZB in 2024.” Data seems to know no bounds.
For the enterprise, an unforeseen byproduct of data digitization has been an even greater urgency for IT agility, adaptability and transformation. Business models are being disrupted as the digitalization of the economy accelerates and new technologies are serving a reshaped workforce. Advancements in compute, storage and connectivity in particular have been increasing their enterprise IT requirements and related complexity for data centers.
Data: The LifeBlood of Artificial Intelligence
With digital transformation accelerating and a global digital economy taking shape, third-party data centers are evolving. They’re responding by incorporating technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
Although ML is based on the idea that machines should be able to learn and adapt through experience, AI refers to a broader idea where machines can execute tasks smartly. AI applies ML, deep learning and other techniques to solve actual problems. Both depend on vast amounts of data to make good on their ability to analyze and provide actionable information.
AI-Driven Commerce Platforms
New applications and services once thought to be beyond the reach of computing technology is now being actualized with the ability to apply AI, ML, speech recognition, location services, and speed and identity tracking in real-time. We have become intertwined with digital technology to a degree that we previously never could have imagined. Consider the stunning success of hyperscale AI-driven commerce platforms like video streaming, messaging, ride sharing and gaming. They now are mainstays in our daily lives and exemplify the new global digital economy. Typically, these hyperscale companies built their own dedicated data centers to accommodate their significant needs for speed-to-market, scale, location, economics and logistics. The pandemic only further increased these needs.
According to IDC, instead of hindering growth, COVID-19 is accelerating data growth due to the abrupt increase in working from home, a changing mix of richer data sets and a surge in video-based content consumption. Digitization is increasing the complexity and cost associated with running on-premise data centers. However, at the same time, the modern third-party data centers have been developing and enhancing their services, using digitized delivery models that leverage AI and ML.
According to the IDC’s “Worldwide Global DataSphere Forecast, 2020–2024: The COVID-19 Data Bump and the Future of Data Growth” survey: “72 percent of CIOs responding to a survey plan to increase their usage of data center colocation over the next 12 months.” And, according to Gartner, “End-user spending on global data center infrastructure in the US alone is projected to reach $200 billion in 2021, an increase of 6 percent from 2020.”
The Digital Transformation of the Data Center
In response, leading multi-tenant data centers are becoming fully digitized and instrumented for advanced technologies. Advancements in AI and ML are improving system reliability, energy efficiency and security, while also simplifying and reducing operating costs. Customers are interacting with their data and services, getting real-time visibility, access and dynamic control of critical metrics across compute and storage environments from a single platform, and even a mobile device.
AI and ML is enabling new, smart data center services, like facial recognition to identify badge holders and detections that index objects and anomalies. New services are building accurate forecasts of a customer’s power consumption, so they only pay for what they need, while virtual assistants run continuously in the background collecting data and performing automated data analysis. Many also now offer environmental sensors that analyze and provide customers with on-demand visibility into rack-level temperature and humidity metrics that align with their sustainability and service-level requirements.
Business and IT leaders responsible for managing and optimizing their IT environments need to understand this. Accessed from anywhere globally, these new digitized services are driving business decisions that provide enterprises a lower cost profile and cost of ownership compared to conventional, non-digitized data centers. By increasing scalability, flexibility and infrastructure visibility, enterprises can now optimize every capital and operating expense dollar spent, while also reducing business risk. This is all very new and represents uncharted territory for many business leaders with “IT” in their title.
Scale, Connectivity and Sustainability
AI, ML and the new digital services are cool, but more important for the enterprise is the fact that they help to rapidly scale business and to access a more robust connectivity built upon sustainable IT infrastructure.
As you’re looking for the right technologies and data centers, consider whether they can rapidly scale space and power as required for your enterprise’s growing IT environment. Do they offer cloud and hybrid colocation options for any services you use, like AWS, Azure and Google clouds? Do you require in-building access to on-net carriers, multiple fiber routes or internet peering exchanges?
The best data center providers already are far down the path of providing sustainable infrastructure for their large enterprise, hyperscale and government clients. Look for those data center providers that demonstrate commitment and transparency by setting aggressive goals for renewable energy, water reclamation, zero water cooling systems, recycling, waste management and more. Make sure to look for that information documented in an annual environmental, social and governance (ESG) report available online.
For enterprises looking to outsource their IT, and their customer facing business, to a third-party or change data center providers, it’s important to understand a data center provider’s ability to support your business’ growth trajectory. Consider their ability to manage the level of connectivity you require to effectively deliver services to your customers.
The best providers will start the conversation with questions focused on these areas and be proactive about developing solutions mapped to them.
Evaluate providers both from an organizational perspective and on the specific capabilities of data centers that interested you. Service and capabilities will often vary from data center to data center and region to region.
Align your long-term company objectives with key criteria when evaluating a provider’s strengths, weaknesses and long-term visions, because it is a long-term commitment for many. Moving to a colocation facility is often expensive and potentially disruptive. Digital transformation has created uncharted territory for us all. When thinking about how your enterprise will face the future, make sure you partner with a provider capable of funding a capital-intensive business, yet enthusiastically pursues new technologies to lower your cost, complexity and time to market.