A data center is the infrastructure a business uses to house its IT assets — space, power, cooling, network connectivity, wiring, etc. Depending on the business’ size, it may be a spare closet, a dedicated building or space leased at a public data center.
“The data center itself is infrastructure and doesn’t generate revenue or create differentiated business value,” says Mike Tighe, executive director, Data Products at Comcast Business. “So, the CFO frequently says, ‘Rather than utilize precious capital to build or expand a data center, there are other options including great public data centers where we can lease space.’”
Smart Business spoke with Tighe about data center best practices, including network and bandwidth considerations.
Why are data centers so important today, and what’s in store for the future?
The function of a data center is to ensure availability of IT applications and data. If employees don’t have access, they can’t be as productive and in some cases, the business can’t run. The trend to place IT assets -—applications, servers and storage — in public data centers is rapidly evolving for businesses of all sizes, either as a main data center or as part of business continuity strategy.
Over the next five years the trend of renting rather than owning IT infrastructure will accelerate as businesses utilize cloud-based infrastructure and applications. This is not just because of better economics, the ‘cloud’ enables rapid deployment and the ability to scale applications that drive better productivity.
When should you look at outsourcing a data center?
When IT becomes an important component of how you run your business, you have to ensure high availability. If, for example, you install specialized applications used for resource planning and creation of content, but the server starts going down because of power or network connectivity loss, it impacts your business’s ability to run.
Another factor is economic. As businesses make IT decisions, they may not have the capital to build or upgrade data centers, so they’ll look at alternatives.
What are some options to consider with public data centers?
By their very nature, there are more capabilities in a public data center because everyone is sharing the cost of the generator, the physical security monitoring, having multiple network providers, etc. However, some things to consider are:
- Physical security procedures.
- Redundancy of critical components.
- The ability to expand as your IT infrastructure requirements increase.
- Network for primary and backup connections. What providers have extended their network into the data center to provide connectivity and ensure access?
- Location. Regional events including loss of power and natural disasters dictate that the backup site be located far enough from the main data center so as not to be affected by a single incident. Hurricane Sandy certainly brought home the point that a redundant data center far enough inland on a separate power grid helps ensure application availability.
How can companies build the right network?
Strong network connectivity becomes more important as IT assets are put into public data centers. Know how much your company’s bandwidth requirements are growing, and your network’s ability to scale for future requirements. On average, over the past decade, a business’s bandwidth requirements have grown around 50 percent per year. Look at network technologies that can cost-effectively scale — from 10 megabytes, an average site requirement, to one gigabyte, for example. Ethernet technology, which local-area networks are built on, is one solution that businesses are leveraging for their networks.
How do data center solutions impact a business’s bottom line?
With the economic downturn, use of company capital became a focus. Executives decided that the data center, while important, doesn’t produce any intrinsic value. And you can lease the space and preserve capital for projects that improve the bottom line. Companies can rent space by the square foot, rather than having to build another data center as IT needs expand.
Mike Tighe is a executive director, Data Products at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 286-5276 or email@example.com.
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While “location, location, location” remains a primary concern for a business choosing new real estate, the criteria used to compare buildings is shifting.
“It’s clear that hyper-connected businesses are increasingly relying on high-performance networks capable of supporting cloud computing, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), business continuity/disaster recovery and other high-bandwidth applications,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “This not only makes having a highly reliable network connection essential, it also makes the advanced communications infrastructure of a company’s office space a key part of its IT strategy and daily operations.”
Smart Business spoke with Maloney about the rise of hyper-connected business and how advanced communications services affect commercial real estate.
How are hyper-connected tenants demanding access to advanced communications in commercial real estate?
An online poll of more than 450 building owners and property managers across the country asked respondents about the importance of advanced communications. Ninety percent said that advanced communications services are the fourth most important selling point behind location, price and parking. In high-rise commercial office buildings and with owners/managers of 2 million or more square feet of property, communications capabilities rose to even more importance.
This is as result of a changing workplace. Instead of a business hosting email servers in its office, storing backup files in its IT room and holding team meetings in a conference room, now a company is likely using a cloud service for email, with its storage backed up to a data center across the country and gathering teams via video conference. Public IT cloud services will account for nearly half of new IT spending by 2015, according to IDC research.
Can having advanced telecommunications services in a commercial building create a competitive advantage?
A majority of building owners and property managers view advanced communications services as a competitive advantage, regardless of other traits, according to the poll. A notable undecided group acknowledged a trend in the market but is unsure how it affects them; they may not have received direct feedback from prospective tenants to validate this. As businesses increasingly rely on network connections for day-to-day operations, ensuring those connections are modern and reliable translates into more uptime, revenue and customer satisfaction.
What role do multiple communication service providers play in occupancy rates?
Nearly two-thirds of the owners and managers surveyed said they have multiple providers of fiber-based communications services in their buildings. With a U.S. vacancy rate of 18.1 percent in the second quarter of 2011, a competitive climate has building owners and property managers looking for any advantage to attract and retain tenants. Nearly one out of two respondents said that access to multiple service providers in their buildings positively impacts occupancy rates by up to 19 percent. Warehouses make the most use of multiple providers, likely due to the key role they play in moving inventory, order fulfillment and related logistics that require redundant network connections to maximize uptime.
By having access to multiple service providers in one building, tenants have options for different services, plans, prices and service level agreements, and the flexibility to switch providers in the future. More important, access to multiple service providers provides critical redundancy and load balancing so the company can ensure that it maximizes network uptime and overall performance.
How often is advanced communications service a topic of negotiation with prospective tenants?
More than one-third of respondents say that in 75 percent of negotiations with prospective tenants, the topic of advanced communications is raised. This was even higher for respondents who own or manage suburban office buildings. In today’s competitive real estate market, negotiations are important, as the outcome represents a fixed outcome of revenue and cost for years to come. As lease rates often do not have much room for negotiation, other items grow in importance, including advanced communications services. If managers and owners do not have access to advanced communications services, they should discuss a plan for bringing them into the buildings and be aware of available service providers.
How can property owners and managers highlight their buildings’ communications services?
Once properties have the right communications infrastructure, ensure that marketing and sales materials list the services and providers available so these selling points stand out for prospective tenants. Highlight network access points, data rooms or other onsite communications facilities when giving tours and make sure brokers are knowledgeable about what services are offered in each building.
Do an advanced communications services audit that covers what service providers and associated products, services and prices are available as compared to competitive properties in the area. This will help you validate and communicate your competitive advantage, and identify and fill in any access gaps.
Research local service providers and discuss the requirements for extending providers’ networks, including the construction timeframe and the bandwidth capacity of the network. It’s critical to ensure that buildings have a wide range of bandwidth capacity options delivered over multiple, diverse networks so that if tenants access both, they can still be connected, even if one network goes down.
Don’t wait for tenants to ask about advanced communications infrastructure. Take the time to understand your tenants’ business and potential applications, as well as the services needed to run it. Then proactively discuss how your building’s infrastructure is suited to those needs.
Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class
When it comes to maximizing the performance, scalability and value of their IT infrastructure, corporations want the best of both worlds: the features, functionality and benefits of their business applications without the headache of managing and running them.
It has been a challenging proposition for enterprises to optimize their outsourced investment and the performance of their IT spend. Increasingly, however, these companies are turning to providers of colocation and managed services for an IT optimize solution that extends beyond the infrastructure to provide above platform-level support and services.
Smart Business spoke with Christian Teeft, vice president of engineering at Latisys, to help executives determine what to look for in an IT optimize solution, and how they can gain the comfort and assurance needed in turning over ownership and management of their IT infrastructure to a colocation and managed services provider.
What is the most significant difference between an IT off-load solution and an IT optimize solution?
The primary distinction between ‘off-load’ and ‘optimize’ has to do with the responsibilities around the compute layer of an IT infrastructure. With off-load, an IT organization is responsible for the procurement and support of the server hardware, as well as the hypervisor and operating system. With an IT optimize solution, the server hardware, hypervisor and operating system components become the responsibility of the service provider. The provider will capitalize the hardware purchases to leverage their economies of scale, utilize ‘Service Provider Licensing Agreements’ to provide the software in a cost effective and scalable fashion, and provide advanced around-the-clock support for both — all for a predictable monthly expense.
What kind of requirements do companies that are ready for an IT optimize solution have?
Given that these profiles build upon each other, the functional requirements from clients that are classified within the off-load and off-site profiles are similar. Organizations within each profile require highly robust platforms from which they can deploy the critical IT services needed to operate their businesses.
The primary distinction we see between optimize and other profiles is the need for an organization to further optimize their operation by:
- Moving even more dollars from CapEx budgets to OpEx budgets by shifting hardware and OS/hypervisor software licensing responsibilities to the provider.
- Optimizing head count through eliminating the need for IT staff to manage the tactical care and feeding of the network, hardware, hypervisor and operating systems.
- Filling knowledge gaps for server hardware, hypervisor technology, and operating systems by leverage the expertise and support of the service provider.
What are the key benefits of an IT optimize solution provided by a colocation/managed services provider?
Optimize enables an IT organization to focus on meaningful, strategically important IT initiatives and better utilize available IT budgets. This holistic approach allows the organization to spend time innovating the systems, processes and procedures that improve operational efficiencies and drive hard dollars to a company’s bottom line, which not only simplifies the conversation between the business and technology leaders, but also improves the overall reliability of the infrastructure.
How can an IT optimize solution ease the burden of the capital investment required to adopt the latest data center technologies?
IT optimize eliminates the capital burden altogether. This cost is shifted over to a predictable monthly expense that encompasses all costs for the technology — from initial acquisition to ongoing support. On top of the server, hypervisor and operating system costs, the optimize profile has the potential to eliminate all of the big-ticket items typically found within the SME infrastructure, including Storage Area Network (SAN) and data protection platforms.
Many firms are dabbling in virtual servers, but managed virtualization is different. How?
The big difference, aside from the subject matter expertise that comes along with the service provider offering (24-7-365 access to more than one expert) has to do with the way the costs are structured. Off the shelf, the hypervisor software often costs as much as the hardware costs. The optimize profile reduces the economic stair function associated with scaling out virtual machine infrastructure. This allows for managing capacity based on actual resource utilization as opposed to the need for avoiding uncomfortable conversations with the CFO.
How can firms that are hesitant to turn over ownership and management of their IT infrastructure pick the right partner?
Many organizations think they give up strategic control of their operation if they don’t own the hardware. This simply doesn’t have to be the case. Here is a short list of tips for picking the right partner:
- Ensure there is rapport. IT professionals should want to engage your team members, inherently supporting the transfer of knowledge that makes the IT organization stronger.
- The adoption of services should not be adversely disruptive. If you have to change every process and procedure in the book, it’s probably not a good fit.
- Maintain control. Engaging a service provider isn’t about giving up control but changing the perspective from tactical to strategic.
- Don’t make your decision based solely on the lowest bid. Consider all costs variables to understand the implications of selecting a particular partner.
Christian Teeft is vice president of engineering at Latisys. Reach him at email@example.com.