What global firms are looking for in IT (part 6)


The article below is a translation of the original:
Doing It Right: What global enterprises are looking for in IT infrastructure (part 6)

Choosing a Data Center: 4 Key Differentiators

When choosing a data center, it pays to weigh your options carefully. Once systems are initialized, physical relocation can present a significant – and sometimes impossible – challenge, one that consumes both time and money. Complicating matters is the fact that there are currently over 170 service providers operating data centers in Japan. In order to choose one from the many DCs available to match your company’s needs and ensure a beneficial long-term relationship, it’s a good idea to know what to look for. With that goal in mind, we’ve examined the various characteristics of the field and narrowed the criteria down to four key points of differentiation:

1. Connectivity to Various Services
Looking back 15–20 years ago, prospective tenants placed particular emphasis on a data center’s internet bandwidth. Even today, a DC’s IX (internet exchange) bandwidth and the number of ISPs to which the center is connected are still considered important tickboxes. Industry publications still list the top providers by bandwidth. But with the growing number of providers able to provide huge bandwidth, other factors have begun to wrest some of the focus away.

In recent years, non-internet-based connectivity to public cloud services has been garnering more attention. The reason for this is that internet-based connectivity is plagued by various issues such as instability, security holes and network latency. Although users tend to access the public cloud via the internet, enterprise applications are beginning to employ dedicated connections that offer greater reliability. Taking this a step further, data centers with the necessary gateways (nodes used by the aforementioned dedicated lines) can offer users direct connectivity to the cloud on-site. Even DCs not equipped with such gateways are shifting more of their capabilities towards offering private connections. There are many companies that choose the latter option as a contingency when employing both public cloud and DC services.

Public cloud connectivity has multiple applications and is often used in a general-purpose manner. But, enterprises can and do opt for specialized connectivity geared for certain industries. For example, data centers with gateways to stock exchanges tend to attract numerous financial institutions who gather in close electronic proximity, forming a kind of ecosystem. Distance is critical for these organizations, as they are constantly executing microsecond-ordered transactions.

In this way, internet access is no longer the sole factor, but one of several to consider when choosing a data center. Other types of connectivity, such as cloud connectivity, industry-specific solutions, and added-value networks have also become important factors. Determining which factors are more pertinent to your business is one of the key differentiators to consider when choosing a data center.

An example of hybrid connectivity combining a data center and public cloud (Colt Technology Services)

2. Power Capacity
Over the past 20 years, changes and growth in power supplies arguably represent the biggest change. In the past, the standard was around 2kVA (kilovolt amps) per rack, but now the mainstream standard is around 4–6kVA. With the appearance of high-density servers, the number of servers housed in a single rack has risen, and the amount of power required has therefore also increased. This trend is continuing, and in some cases the requirements have risen to 10kVA per rack.

When these kinds of demands are multiplied to the scale of 100 or even 1,000 racks, the total amount of power required can easily reach upwards of several thousand kVa, bringing us from kilowatts (kW) to megawatts (MW). Indeed, newly constructed data centers and publications covering the industry now tend to cite power capacity in straight megawatts.

While the usage needs of most regular businesses rarely exceed 100 racks, it is conceivable that the future may bring new system architectures with greater than expected power demands. In light of this, it is prudent to confirm whether your data center of choice supplies enough power capacity per rack in comparison to your needs.

Another factor that is particularly important is whether or not the area in which your company’s racks are located has sufficiently available power capacity to accommodate expansion. Comparatively new data centers have advanced power supply capabilities, so in many cases this is a non-issue. However, older DCs may not be so forgiving. Even with newer DCs, available power may be restricted due to large-scale tenants taking the lion’s share.

3. Location
Like any other business, a data center’s location is also an important point. That isn’t to say that we can generalize between good areas and bad areas, but rather that location advantages will depend on business needs. Typically speaking, a DC near your company’s offices is advantageous in terms of being able to respond to system disruptions and so on. When the DC is being utilized for business continuity purposes however, the probability of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods occurring on-site takes precedence over convenience of access.

The PML (Probable Maximum Loss) index provides a handy reference regarding the potential degree of impact in the event of a disaster. PML indicates the value of the largest predicted loss, and is a percentage of the total costs that would be incurred in restarting (or repairing/restoring) equipment and facilities in the aftermath of say, an earthquake. This means, of course, that the lower the PML value, the safer the data center.

Japan is an interesting case in that there are no locations that are absolutely 100% safe in terms of disaster prevention. If you consider business continuity to be an absolute necessity, it is more practical to utilize DCs in multiple locations. The combined use of the cloud and data centers is another effective option. In which case, cloud connectivity is a highly desirable added-value service to have.

4. Operational Support
Almost all data centers offer on-site support for simple tasks such as device reboots and cable connections. For this reason, customers rarely need to personally visit their DC once their systems have been initialized and tuned. However, there are times when work must be done on-site, such as incident management or new system installation. This is where extended operational support is of great value. DCs staffed by capable personnel can eliminate the need to personally go on-site, allowing the customer to reduce operating costs and shorten response times.

For example, there are services such as remote access to devices without IP connectivity via KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) switches, or provision of lockers for storing replacement parts ahead of time that are then passed device vendors who rush to the scene to manage incidents. The prerequisite for these services is that the data center’s operator has personnel posted at the data center on a 24-hour basis. If you are seeking to minimize rapid-response costs (i.e. for on-call tasks) and achieve fast recovery from system disruption, then DCs with comprehensive on-site operational support services are advantageous. One caveat though: you may need to consider your company’s security policy. If your security policy restricts access to company systems by 3rd-party personnel, you may have to do without.

Summary
With the above points of differentiation in mind – connectivity, power capacity, location and operational support – we hope you’re better equipped to make an informed decision when it comes to choosing a data center. In addition, although we didn’t touch on it, cost is obviously another important factor. Naturally, the more convenient the DC, the higher the cost. Your choice of DC should therefore come down to consideration for your business objectives in a cross-comparison with the key points above, and then factored against your budget. It’s definitely not easy finding a DC that aces all criteria while staying within your company’s cost structure. But if you can at least identify your top needs, you’ll be several steps closer to acquiring the data center services to propel your company’s business strategy.

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