Location & Co-Location

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The continued development and deployment of cloud-based applications is putting pressure on data centres. Firstly there is a space problem in the real estate and secondly – they need to deliver the goods for partners and end users alike.

If hosted and cloud based applications are to thrive then they need a secure platform and location from which to operate and with such a diverse range of applications being developed by service providers and resellers seeking to differentiate their offerings, the Data Centre is emerging as the key and core component in the mix. However, the market is getting ever more competitive and for table stakes ‘state of the art everything’ is now required as standard.

According to Tariff Consultancy Ltd (TCL) in its latest edition of its Data Centre Pricing in Europe – 2013, new growth in data centres raised floor space by an average of 10,000 square metres per month putting pressure on average price levels.

The report says that as existing clusters of data centre markets become saturated new facilities are being established in surrounding areas accompanied with a decline in data centre price levels. But, as the report notes, Data Centre facilities in London are priced at a premium to the rest of the market.

A range of Data Centre clusters are now developing in each European Country Market, with the UK, the Netherlands, France and Sweden seeing development in new facilities away from the capital city – typically the main source of Data Centre investment – driven by the availability of land, planning permission and lower development costs.

Demand for data centre space is also being driven by requirements from telecoms, hosting, integrators and digital content providers who require third party data centre space rather than build their own facilities.

But, say TCL, data centre providers can maintain a price premium in a market where there is a wide range of IP & network connectivity – including direct connectivity to the national IP exchange – and benefitting from a wide range of partners and digital content providers creating a unique ecosystem.

With more and more businesses migrating mission-critical systems and data to private based cloud technologies, providers who can offer a high-level co-location proposition are at a premium. The importance of the data centre has gained momentum as companies push all their data through a central point or points. Many companies rapidly outgrow their original internet access and demand increased speeds with 100% uptime together with the standard issues of security, environment and availability of managed services.

But, as Tom O’Hagan, Managing Director of Virtual1 appreciates, key to staying ahead of the game in the Channel is not just around price but also flexibility, security and the ability to listen to what the Partner requires for the customer now and in the future.

Locations…

Today data centre location is very important. During the ‘90’s data centres were predominantly to be found in London Docklands area. And then the FSA got involved and companies invested in two separate data centre locations to cover off the whole business continuity and disaster recovery issue. Whilst there are many different data centres on offer, purpose built, well-connected facilities are where we need to be focussing our attention. Whilst location is important – good connectivity, diverse power and data security are not a compromise. Carrier neutral, purpose built solutions offering energy efficiency and physical security give the quality of resiliency that the channel demands.

O’Hagan at Virtual1 says, “Being in a location close to our customers enables us to deliver a greater range of services at a more cost effective price point. With resilient dark fibre between both the Virtual1 facilities we provide 100% uptime. With the low latency providing better standards of connectivity a solid foundation is built for private based cloud technologies.

Being able to negotiate bulk agreements our Partners can benefit from increased capacity whilst enjoying all the benefits of improved infrastructure meaning their proposition remains competitive. With the wholesale model amortising the costs the Channel can also reap the benefit of the resulting margins that are necessary in this competitive market.”

Stephen Warburton, Sales Director at ZEN notes that location is important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

“We’re proud of our relationships with North West businesses, but we also want to work with organisations throughout the UK. There are good reasons to look beyond the area bound by the M25, and for backup and disaster recovery applications there are advantages in storing data away from the capital.

For us, the important thing isn’t where you are in the country, but what access you have to your hardware. We can provide 24×7 physical access to a facility in easy reach of the M62, which is something our partners in the North West appreciate. However, we can also provide full, 24×7 on-site technical support, remote administration via remote KVM, an inclusive remote hands service and options for hardware installation and tape rotation. You can manage your equipment, and even add new hardware, without ever setting foot in the data centre.

Chris Byrd, Technical Director at M247 observes the diverse use of locations for data centres. “There are data centres located in shipping containers and, at the other end of the scale, there are data centres housed in expensive city centre locations so, take your pick as to which kind of data centre addresses your needs.

For most people, having a data centre on your doorstep isn’t the main criteria. Reliable 24×7 support and proximity to good communication links are far more important. Naturally there is high demand in London and other major cities but the associated hassle and costs related to any city centre location has pushed customers to search for data centres located just outside the heavy traffic areas.”

Byrd says that what customers are looking for these days are:

Good secure parking with plenty of space

Ease of access to motorway network, airports, rail etc.

Outside City Centre – minimise hassle, expense, queuing time etc.

Close to good amenities such as retail parks, restaurants, leisure etc.

Location is still a key variable when it comes to building a data centre according to Anthony Robinson at Corning Cable Systems, especially in sectors such as financial services where it is a very critical element of the organisation. “Many still adhere to the ruling that data centres should not be built in the middle of a flight path, next to a major road or rail network or close to a large water network.

However, there are arguably more important considerations for the future data centre. For example, the ability to scale to meet growing traffic and workload growth has become very important thanks to the mobile user, as has the ability to improve efficiency and reduce power, both of which have become primary drivers for the entire UK industry.”

Darren Hilton, Partner Services Director at Timico believes that IT managers still have a soft spot for data centres that are 30-40 minutes’ drive from their HQ, but the channel needs to lead the education drive by changing this perception.

“In reality no-one visits their servers anymore because any decent, channel-friendly hosting partner will be providing 24/7 on-site experts for remote-hands provisioning and troubleshooting. Far more important than geographical location is logical location – how good is the internet connectivity, what are the peering arrangements in place and how good is latency?”

Channel Friendly

Stephen Warburton, Sales Director at ZEN says his firm works hard to make sure that we’re amongst the most ‘channel friendly’ providers in the business.

“That begins with our approach; we try to be transparent when it comes to our pricing, our terms and conditions, our products and our future plans. We also put the focus on support, whether that’s the day-to-day support of making sure that everything runs smoothly and our partners get what they need, to more long-term programmes like partner workshops, technical backgrounders and knowledge-sharing events. We’re always looking for partners who can take our products and use them to build something powerful, new or innovative, and we think that sharing our information and expertise can help them do just that. We’re also looking to develop long-term relationships, not just get another sale.”

Being ‘channel friendly’ shouldn’t be an alien concept to vendors according to Ian Millward, Head of Channel Sales, Node4. “We think it’s quite simple really. We want to be exactly what our partners want us to be. That’s to be the easiest company to do business with and show a guaranteed return on investment. While the ability to offer a comprehensive service can be valuable, at Node4 we don’t believe in an ‘all or nothing’ mind-set, and we’re happy to let partners use as many of our services as they like.

We think there are a lot of businesses that are currently poorly served by vendors with confusing technology offerings, complicated delivery or rigid and commoditised solutions. At Node4, we don’t just want to be another supplier and that is why we have invested so much in our own infrastructure, which allows us to be as flexible as our partners need us to be.

Flexibility is crucial, but we also believe there is a huge opportunity for vendors that can really help partners and customers on the education side. Data is becoming a more important tool for businesses every day, in almost every industry. Smaller businesses are using bigger data and the market for storage, collaboration and information management tools is on an upward curve. That means companies like Node4, that have all the infrastructure and technology in place, need to work with our partners to educate businesses on the best ways of managing, interpreting and storing these increasing levels of data.”

From M247’s perspective Chris Byrd says being channel friendly means not only providing extensive customer amenities but also means providing a range of white label solutions and being versatile and flexible enough to provide competitive bespoke solutions alongside off-the-shelf solutions.

“Many Channel partners want to mix and match services so we would be fools to stick rigidly to fixed packages.”

Co-Location Makes Sense

2013 was the year when the cloud changed from being something every business was thinking about to something many use in earnest. Smart organisations are now using Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) product to work more efficiently and reduce their costs, and for many of them a hybrid approach mixing private cloud services with public cloud services has been the way to go.

Stephen Warburton at ZEN anticipates seeing more of the same, “We expect that to continue, which is why we’re encouraging enterprises to take advantage of our 1350 square metre, 270-rack data centre, located at our North West HQ.

Colocation is a key part of our private cloud provision. With prices starting at just £59 per month (ex VAT) we can offer services even to smaller companies, but we designed our data centre to maximise capacity, giving us the space to support the growing needs of every customer and partner. That doesn’t just mean the physical rack space, but ensuring that we have the resilient connectivity and power to guarantee an excellent service. What’s more, we offer not just shared racks, but dedicated racks to suit customers that need more capacity and a private, lockable environment for their hardware.

Colocation makes good bottom-line sense. The hardware stored in our data centre is protected by security above and beyond what most organisations could implement themselves. We can offer 99.999% network availability, 100% power availability and 1 hour ‘at rack’ technical support, all backed up by comprehensive SLAs. This gives companies the perfect combination of the anywhere, anytime availability of the cloud with the privacy and control you get from on-premises infrastructure.”

Andrew Newton, Data Centre Technical at Cisilion says that one good example he has seen repeated a number of times is the use of co-location to facilitate an office move or an IT refresh. “In one case a legal firm in Bristol were moving to a new building and needed an IT refresh, so the new solutions were built out in the data centre, tested and even rolled out to a controlled user group. When the move occurred it was only people and their belongings that had to move as the new IT and telephony infrastructure was in place and tested in the new building. Thus downtime and risk were minimised.”

Chris Byrd at M247 says that at first there might appear to be a lot of choice in the co-location market but this narrows down significantly once you look at factors such as quality of support, security and ease of access etc.

Other important things to take into account according to Byrd are:

Resiliency – look for at least Tier 3 to ensure your data is safe

Connectivity – modern and extensive low latency networks are essential

Versatility and flexibility – can you talk terms directly with the company directors?

High security – has the data centre got ISO 27001 accreditation?

24×7 UK Support – you never need them until you need them

Green credentials – being efficient and green usually means that the data centre is efficient in other parts of its operation

Good customer amenities

User-friendly procedures – having procedures that are cumbersome and “tight as a drum” will frustrate you and slow your business down. Your chosen data centre must have procedures in place but find out how they work before you sign the deal.

Byrd concludes, “Channel partners considering which data centre to use for co-location should insist on taking the tour of the entire site, meeting support teams, directors and account managers. In this way, they will get a realistic feel of whether the data centre really is serious about attracting Channel business.”

Darren Hilton, Partner Services Director at Timico believes that co-location is about much more than space, power, cooling and connectivity.

“At present there is an over supply of huge data centres at knock-down prices, so for the savvy channel business there are, without doubt, bargains to be had. However, with margins decreasing the opportunity for IT-VARs and MSPs really lies in the service.

A great opportunity lies in managed co-location, which is emerging as a real requirement in the channel – thanks to a growing need for co-location partners who are able to supply consultancy, security expertise and managed backup facilities, as well as flexible opex models for equipment. Increasingly complex requirements from businesses that need to move existing servers, or deploy new kit into hosted data centre environments requires specialist migration skills that many ‘simple’ co-location facilities just cannot offer.

What’s more, co-location hosting providers need to be able to complement the skills and resources in the channel with managed migration skills, security consultancy and the buying-muscle to get great deals on the latest spec of hosting hardware.”

Ed Says…

In selecting a data centre partner it is not just about the technical offer but also to look at the quality of service and the recognition that further investment has to continue in order to grow with the ever increasing demands of the customer. It is all these elements that provide value for money.

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