The role of colocation in a distributed work environment

The role of colocation in a distributed work environment

As the hybrid workforce becomes the new or next normal, a correspondingly hybrid data centre architecture is essential.

Written by Phil Alsop, Editor, DCS Europe Published Thursday, 20 May 2021 08:06

As the hybrid workforce becomes the new or next normal, a correspondingly hybrid data centre architecture is essential.

Pre-pandemic, some digital transformation journeys were already under way, and plenty were still on the drawing board. Although the majority of organisations recognised that speed was an important aspect of their digital journey, many believed that a timescale of a several years was a more than acceptable pace at which to implement change. And then Covid-19 came along, and the best laid plans were blown out of the water, or ether. 

Almost overnight, there was a mad, barely controlled rush to enable the newly created remote workforce, locked down at home, with no immediate prospect of a return to the office. Companies and their employees were forced to adapt to a whole new ways of working. The lucky ones were able to accelerate their planned digital transformations; the not so lucky had to more or less make it up as they went along.

Fast forward to early 2021, and there seems to be a general recognition that some of the pandemic-enforced workplace changes are here to stay, and some are not. For example, the majority of organisations appear to have accepted that their newly created hybrid workforce – a mixture of folk working in the office, from home and, most likely, a balance of the two – is likely to remain. 

And, while plenty of companies have already got to grips with the challenge of an increasingly mobile workforce, there are significantly difficult obstacles to overcome for those working from home, whether permanently or semi-permanently. In simple terms, where IT expectations for a mobile worker – wanting to access emails at the airport, or a database while visiting a customer –may be somewhat limited and accepting of poor connectivity and/or unreliable access; those working from home, fulfilling their normal job functions, are not so tolerant. In other words, for the mobile worker, variable IT access is a given (although, increasingly, performance expectations are similar to those of office-based IT); for the home worker, office-like reliability is expected (both by the employer and employee).

Given this hybrid work environment, and the overall requirement for reliable, optimised IT infrastructure and application performance, what benefits does a colocation data centre have to offer? The following may not be an exhaustive list of points to consider, but should provide some food for thought when it comes to helping an organisation develop the successful hybrid IT and data centre infrastructure that is required to support today’s hybrid workforce.

 

  1. Security – At a most basic level, if your computer room or data centre is a part of your office building, and that office building is empty, how do you know your IT infrastructure is safe? Even of you have some staff in the office, this physical security aspect is a potential issue. In a colocation facility, the physical security measures in place, plus the presence of staff, provide peace of mind.
  2. Monitoring and maintenance – Remote monitoring of your IT assets located in your own data centre/computer room may not be available (after all, pre-pandemic, you had on-site staff carrying out this task). Colocation facilities offer such a service pretty much as standard. As for maintenance, while essential workers have been allowed into their workplaces, it’s almost certainly the case that a colocation provider’s maintenance regime – in particular the ability to respond rapidly to a potential problem – is smarter and more agile than an in-house programme.
  3. Connectivity – having your IT assets in a colocation facility allows fast, easy connectivity to the cloud services which are almost certainly a part of any remote working strategy. You may well find that some or all of the cloud services required are available in the same colocation facility. At the very least, the robust, reliable data centre interconnect infrastructure will allow you to access and/or set up the required cloud environment faster than using in-house IT infrastructure.
  4. Uptime and backup – not necessarily unique to a colocation facility, but at times of major potential disruption, it’s nice to know that, by using a data centre, it’s highly likely that you’ll have access to levels of uptime and backup security that just don’t exist in a typical on-premise environment.
  5. Cybersecurity and compliance – as with point 4), there’s no unique reason why data centre infrastructure cybersecurity should be any better than on-premise solutions. However, colocation providers do offer the possibility of giving you compliance security peace of mind; many offer a DDoS mitigation service; as well as being able to route (remote) network access through a zero-trust security platform. Most crucially, the customer is still responsible for ensuring cybersecurity, regardless of how, where and when cybersecurity assets are deployed.
  6. Extra capacity – in the short term, many organisations were forced to re-align their business models, in order to continue as best as they could. For many, this has required access to different and/or additional infrastructure (imagine the change from doing physical business with customers via a shop, and starting an online presence, or expanding an existing online offering). Building a new computer room or data centre is a long-term project. Data centre providers can provide extra data centre/IT infrastructure capacity almost overnight.
  7. Extra capacity – in the long term, remote working is likely to be a feature of most company strategies, as are ‘remote’ customers. Whatever data centre/IT strategy was introduced as what we might call a ‘knee-jerk’ response to the pandemic, organisations need to make longer term plans to take account of the permanent changes. Likely these will involve the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI), high performance computing (HPC), Internet of Things (IoT), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) and robotic process automation (RPA). These digital technologies require a level of data centre/IT infrastructure that are unlikely to be available on-premise. Many providers have already built out a part of their data centres ready to accept resource-hungry AI, HPC and the rest.
  8. Expertise – re-aligning a business during the pandemic, and especially during the various lockdowns, was a major exercise. How much better if you could have concentrated solely on the business issues, safe in the knowledge that your data centre provider could meet whatever IT requirements you threw at them? As opposed to the scenario where you came up with a positive business plan, only to wonder whether your in-house data centre could support the IT required to make the plan a reality? Or, worse still, discover too late that it couldn’t?

 

Famously, Dr Johnson once wrote: ‘When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully’. The pandemic has brought about such a mental concentration for virtually every business. Colocation data centres, along with cloud and managed service providers, are waiting to provide the solutions which will enable the hybrid workplace and, indeed, the hybrid customer profile, well into the future.