Data centres and IT infrastructure strategy are key to digital transformation 

IT infrastructure matters more now than at any point in history. If businesses are to fully implement a digital transformation strategy, they first need to rethink the physicality of data
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Data centres, the powerhouses that sit at the heart of the world’s boundless computing needs, are often overlooked. Yet they are the unsung heroes of our digital world. As 5G networks, the metaverse, cloud computing, the Internet of Things and remote working are embedded in society, there’s an increasing disconnect with the actual physical infrastructure needed to serve these applications. 

As businesses transform and become more data-led, their IT infrastructure needs will grow and the nature of their data centre requirements will change as a result. The challenge, therefore, is delivering IT infrastructure to meet these needs, both in terms of capacity and connectivity. Corporations may have a digital transformation strategy; few have a data centre strategy. This needs to change if they’re to remain competitive. 

“Every business is a digital business, and as they roll out new innovations, new apps or products, which they want to scale up and industrialise, then they will encounter bottlenecks in terms of performance and cost unless they really think about the data infrastructure that serves them. Corporations must question the underlying architecture first,” says Patrick Lastennet, director for enterprise at Digital Realty, the global provider of cloud- and carrier-neutral data centre, colocation and interconnection solutions.

He adds: “What’s changed now is that the computing power must gravitate towards where the data is being generated not the other way around. That’s because the volume of data is so large and is growing at such a rate that it needs to be processed as close to where it originates as possible.” 

Data cannot be ignored 

The term ‘data gravity’ is increasingly used to describe this concept. Data has the greatest gravitational pull where it has the largest mass. This tends to be where humans congregate in offices and homes and where they consume, as well as generate business, places like mega-cities. 

Therefore, the locations where data is handled matter. It means where data centres and their connections are located is also mission critical. Businesses won’t be able to transform digitally unless they are processing data in the right place, at the right time, especially as corporations become more data-led and digital first, automating processes and plugging into more data from their supply chains and business ecosystems.

“CIOs and decision-makers need to think hard about where the majority of their data is being produced, how much is going to be generated now and in the future, and where it needs to be processed and stored. Many enterprises are at the start of their digital transformation journey. It is important that this conversation is had right now,” says Lastennet.

Data infrastructure spending is under review

Cost management is also a big issue. Cloud computing may provide more computing power and a more innovative space for development teams to operate from, but it can be more costly. However, not every IT workload needs to operate in this space. There is a fine balance to be had. 

“Right now, we are in a very volatile, economic environment, with a great deal of uncertainty; that’s why the cost of data centres is in the crosshairs. Businesses are starting to look at this with a more granular perspective. IT needs traditional data centres for the day-to-day running of an organisation, but it also needs cloud capacity to deliver new applications and digital transformations,” Lastennet says. “A data-centric architecture approach is crucial, one that is built around data flows and understanding the cost and performance attached to each workload and whether it can work in the cloud or outside it.” 

A data-centric architecture approach is crucial

Data mapping is essential. This is where businesses map out their data needs first, how and where it is stored, and what their data footprint is likely to be in the future. Then, businesses can engage data centre rationalisation, in which they realign and refine their IT resources and networks to meet their needs both operationally and strategically. 

If businesses want the best performance at the right cost, they have to question how the underlying physical data infrastructure is going to be delivered. Right now, many multinational companies and larger enterprises are rewiring how they conduct business around the globe, whether it is near- or friend-shoring, diversifying production lines or rerouting logistics and supply chains post Covid-19. 

Businesses are also shifting to where there are greener sources of energy. Legislation and regulation increasingly determine data locations. Enterprises now favour running data centres within jurisdictions where there is geo-political and economic stability, as well as accountability. All of these issues have huge implications for IT infrastructure and data flows. 

Lastennet says: “if you take the long view of five, 10 or 15 years’ time a lot is going to change in terms of where your data will originate and how your global data platform should be configured. No business can leave this to chance.”

Q&A: Digital transformation needs to reflect data reality

Séamus Dunne, managing director for UK and Ireland at Digital Realty, discusses how digital and business transformation is demanding more from data and IT architecture

How is digital transformation driving change? 

Businesses are becoming more digital and data-led, and this means that IT infrastructures are evolving from being cost centres to revenue generators. The demands on the CIO are therefore huge and complex. IT must increasingly deliver because it’s critical to business growth. IT also needs to be resilient yet agile at the same time, deploying everyday workloads and new applications at scale. This is no easy task. 

Increasingly, the cloud has been used to drive new applications, since it offers the firepower that businesses need. However, as the cost of cloud solutions starts to eat into revenues, some companies have repatriated workloads into on premise data centres. It is why a hybrid IT approach is increasingly deployed, which marries the best of the cloud with traditional on-site data capabilities. Yet this approach needs significant networking capacity, since data must move effortlessly between workloads. It is also more complex in its architecture, this is why when we build new colocation data centres, we start with networking capabilities involving a plethora of telecom, subsea cable and Internet providers. A connectivity hub is now vital for implementing hybrid IT.

What strategy should businesses take? 

Many CIOs know what they need to achieve strategy wise, they just don’t know the best way to implement it

If businesses are to capitalise on the hallmarks of digital transformation, including data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as tackle cybersecurity, they need to seriously rethink how their IT infrastructure is configured. Many CIOs know what they need to achieve strategy wise, they just don’t know the best way to implement it. Businesses now need to work with an ecosystem of partners in order to deal with this level of complexity. It’s why we are increasingly a conduit for corporations, trying to navigate the issues and develop cost effective solutions. We’re seeing a lot of businesses come to us, they know that having their own data centre in the basement of their office is not the future. It’s not the answer from a sustainability perspective. They would like to move it into the cloud, but that isn’t the whole solution either. They cannot just shift their IT infrastructure to a colocation data centre with a network fabric overnight. What’s the right way? This is where corporations need trusted partners to implement change.

What advice would you give to transforming businesses? 

Digital transformation involves a series of transitions and it’s a multi-year journey, it’s not even a destination. It’s a process that’s managed over time. Businesses also need the agility to be able to pivot during that journey. These days the best way to do that involves deploying IT infrastructure in a highly networked, highly connected colocation data centre. This gives corporations the flexibility to access the public cloud, migrate it or repatriate it into data centres across multiple locations and urban centres, globally. 

Future-proofing your IT infrastructure is also vital as businesses transform. This is difficult for CIOs to do on their own cost effectively. At Digital Realty we are also on a journey to build competence and agility, as well as evolve over time. Businesses need to align themselves with ecosystem players that are on a journey to improve.

What other issues are businesses dealing with? 

As businesses transform one of the biggest challenges is dealing with the net-zero agenda and reducing carbon emissions. Everyone now wants to know about the sustainability agenda of their suppliers. These days, data centre service providers must have a strong sustainability strategy with results. Through power purchasing agreements or PPAs, we can purchase many megawatts of renewable energy to power our data centres; this underwrites fresh capacity, such as new wind farms. We’re now anchor buyers of renewable energy across Europe. Power usage efficiency in data centres is also important. If you run your own data centre on premise it is impossible to run it efficiently, because you cannot utilise it enough. Colocation data centres are better in this regards, since they are optimally configured across many clients.

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