Digital Transformation – what does it mean for the data centre?

Written by Phil Alsop, Editor, DCS Europe Published 2018-10-10 10:31:11

Traditionally, no matter what was going on in the world, death and taxes were the only two (rather depressing) certainties on which one could rely. As the digital world develops at a helter-skelter pace, who’s to say that even these two guarantees might not become quite so reliable in the future?

The medical world is certainly managing to keep us alive longer and longer, thanks to advancements in no small part indebted to modern IT resources. And as globalisation becomes a reality, the idea of companies being based in physical locations and paying the relevant taxes is, increasingly, being challenged by the rise of virtual enterprises that somehow seem to manage to pay little or no tax anywhere.

Set against this background of rapid, unpredictable change, it should come as little surprise that the traditional data centre is under immense pressure to adapt to the demands of the modern, digital enterprise, which is, in turn, under pressure to transform itself in order to meet the demands of the modern, digital customer.

In simple terms, once upon a time we were happy to wait patiently for our dial-up internet access to ring the access number, whirr, crackle and click for several seconds, followed by an agonising pause which would either lead to an instruction to re-try, or some final high-pitched pings and, finally, you were online. Words and images could then be accessed at very slow speeds. And video and sound content was almost certainly going to take weeks to download – with every chance that it would crash your PC when you tried to play it.

Now, no matter where we are, or what time of day or night it is, we expect instant access to any application, whether we’re using a mobile phone, a tablet, laptop or traditional PC. Lack of bandwidth, latency, a website crashing – these just will not be tolerated. Customers experiencing such issues will head off somewhere else for a better user experience.

In order to provide the best possible digital experience for the customer, the data centre and IT infrastructure that creates, serves and maintains today’s applications needs to be faster and more reliable, more agile and more scalable than ever before.

Faster, because no one expects, or is prepared for, content to do anything other than be accessible the minute we click ‘play’. Faster, because as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) become mainstream over the next few years, there’s going to be vast amounts of data created at thousands or millions of physical locations throughout a company’s physical locations, and much of this data will need to be transformed into usable information in near real-time if it is to have any value.

More reliable, because, as mentioned earlier in this blog, customers no longer tolerate application failure. Whether it’s the gamer who’s stayed up all night to download the latest release of their favourite game, only to discover that the streaming feed is buffering content and ruining the moment, or a dad doing last minute Christmas shopping online, only to find that, every time he gets to the payments page for the website it crashes and he has to start the ordering process again – no one wants anything less than a perfect digital experience.

More agile and more scalable, so that the required data centre and IT resources can be throttled up or down to meet the current customer demand – whether that’s a work application being used within a company, or our dad’s Christmas shopping website. Depending on the company application, at certain times of day, week, month or even year, there will be a totally different workload demanded of any particular application. Similarly, the traffic visiting any particular website can vary hugely, depending on when and why the content is refreshed, or on the time of year.

It’s difficult to over-emphasise the fact that as the digital age matures, data centre and IT infrastructure is going to have to adapt rapidly, or else those companies relying on legacy facilities and equipment are going to lose out to the burgeoning digital native companies – those who started life in the digital era, so have no legacy millstones.

Depending on the nature of your business, you’re going to have to evolve a data centre and IT infrastructure that almost certainly includes some of your own resources (although it doesn’t have to), and a mixture of colocation data centres, cloud and managed services, which give you the speed, reliability, agility and scalability demanded by your mix of customers, depending on their location and their specific requirements. And the word ‘customer’ includes your own workforce, companies with which you collaborate on product design, your supply chain and the people who will buy your products and services.

The ultimate goal is to provide the optimum IT experience for each individual within and outside of your organisation. And this will only be achieved by creating one virtualised data centre, controlled by sophisticated, automated orchestration software, which will intuitively choose the optimum physical data centre/IT infrastructure pathway for any individual customer interaction.

Right now, ‘hybrid’ is a very popular word – especially when used in conjunction with ‘cloud’. And it’s not difficult to imagine that the hybrid data centre will become increasingly important as a concept. Resources will be accessed wherever and whenever required – centralised data centres, regional and edge facilities will all form a part of this hybrid data centre infrastructure. And it’s highly likely that the colocation providers will play a, if not the, most crucial part of this overall picture. After all, in a world where agility, scalability and raw speed are essential, who better to provide and manage these constantly changing infrastructure demands?

Two final points worth considering: just as digital transformation requires new levels of speed, agility and scalability from the data centre, so it requires similar qualities from the workforce. Traditional job roles and titles right across an organisation are already changing. Digital transformation is about people and process. It’s unlikely that you’ll succeed in transforming your company’s data centre and IT infrastructure if your staff are not open to a similar transformation in their job roles.

Secondly, amidst all the hype surrounding AI, IoT and the like (and we’re already seeing the wild claims about robots replacing the entire human workforce to a more considered approach, where robots augment human workers), it’s worth remembering lessons learnt from history, which really does repeat itself! The data centre industry is not dissimilar to the hokey cokey – in, out, shake it all about. We’re in something of an ‘out’ phase right now, but that’s already being shaken all about by the realisation that one size does not fit all. And it’s not too difficult to imagine a time when available bandwidth plus network speeds are so fast that centralised data centre facilities are back in favour – after all, managing a single facility has to be easier than managing multiple ones. Make sure that colocation is a key part of your overall data centre strategy and you can’t go too far wrong, whatever happens next.

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