Parallel between Edge Data Centers and Production Data Center Lifecycles… what we can learn

By Nate Clyde, Director Data Center Design at Parallel Technologies

As a 20-year plus consultant in the data center industry, I have had many opportunities to see my clients work their way through a typical growth profile in their relationship to their information technology systems.

In the early stages of business, in the “start-up” mode of the life of the business, technology and data are tactical and close to the leadership of the company.  As the business matures there is a need to hand-off the technology component to specialists in the field, either internal or external.

This introduces a gap between the leadership of a business and the technology that business uses to succeed.  In this phase of the growth profile, the leadership of the company typically retains the memory of the tactical success with I.T. from the “start-up” period and is a step removed from the ways the use of technology changes as the business grows.   There are often several “mini-crises” that happen in this phase – with attendant loss of availability and loss of data – which the technology specialists are strongly incentivized (to show their value) to “fix” and keep off the leadership’s radar.  As a result, these problems tend to be addressed by the technology specialists with tools and techniques that are available to them at their level.  This is the inflection point at which a growing enterprise will establish what can be considered a “crude data” center.

This typically takes the form of a network closet in which a small centralized UPS is installed, followed, reactively, by a dedicated cooling unit and a physical security system.  The spirit of the crude data center is one of reaction – “problem happens, fix problem so it doesn’t happen again.”  What can get lost in this process is the right balance of “solutions” against the potential ramifications that I.T. outages can have to the business and the lack of a strategic vision (not generally the responsibility of I.T. specialists) to accommodate changes in the future.  For many, the crude data center may be the end of the story.  However, there is an additional inflection point that follows later at which a growing enterprise needs to make the jump to a “production” data center.

The production data center is differentiated from the crude the data center in that it is purpose built – and it is the usually first point at which the leadership of the growing enterprise is going to come back into contact with how the business uses information technology.  This can at times be a painful process as the business leadership expects to see the same, straightforward, tactical I.T. solutions that they knew intimately from the “start-up” of the phase company, and they may not understand why it’s all so complicated now, and, more importantly, expensive.

Meanwhile, the I.T. specialists can have difficulty explaining, in a strategic manner, systems and equipment that they do heroics (often in secret) to keep operating so that the business continues to be able to exist.   The opportunity in the production data center inflection point is the reconnection of the business leadership to the information technology systems.   A strategic planning study is needed to identify, and communicate all of the I.T. “wants and needs” and align them with the business goals and objectives.   The strategic planning study ferrets out, on the basis of stated business goals and objectives, the scope and budget of the production data center (“right sizing”) and, most importantly, a strategic roadmap that allows the business to grow into that facility on an “as needed basis” (flexible and scalable).

We’ve had good success working with our clients on enterprise production data center strategic planning studies for years and have seen many successes.   In recent years, many if not most enterprises have had recourse to colocation and cloud providers to outsource their information technology needs.

A curious recent phenomenon in the data center marketplace is the advent of the “edge” data center.   There are many definitions for “edge” data centers and many drivers for their existence, but for purposes of this discussion, we can consider an edge data center as a facility intended to house any information technology infrastructure which is mission critical to the business, but which is unable to be outsourced to a colocation provider or the cloud.   The reasons for “on prem” information technology assets are manifold and diverse, ranging from proprietary data to communications latency (data transfer speed), but on prem information technology assets are a reality for nearly every business.  What is interesting is that the lifecycle of these “on prem” assets seems to follow a curve that is remarkably similar to that that the business followed in growth cycle from start-up/tactical I.T., to the crude data center and finally to the production data center.

What’s different is the spirit.

The production data center growth curve is one that occurs concurrent with the growth curve for the business in general and can be seen as aligning to and being driven by that growth.  The need for edge data centers seems to go against this grain – in a market place heavily saturated by the question “Do you want to be in the data center business?” the need for on prem information technology assets feels a bit like a dirty little secret.  The opportunity in the edge data center growth inflection point is for the business goals and objectives associated with on-prem mission critical I.T. resources to drive improvement into the adjacent occupancies that they serve, whether they be manufacturing equipment, other automated systems or simply human resources.  This improvement will only be realized with a strategic engineering study to ferret out the technical scope of the edge data center need and drive that into a strategic alignment with the business goals and objectives.   If done right, the advent of the edge data center can be a “boon” for the business – strengthening the overall facility infrastructure, as opposed to being compromised by what exists in a reactive “get ‘er done” approach.

It’s time for our industry to have open, honest conversations that it isn’t entirely possible for all business to outsource all of their I.T. assets to colocation or the cloud.  Something needs to remain behind and whatever that is, it still needs to be able to support the production of the business.  The production data center strategic planning study is the solution to ensuring that these “hold over” data centers get the fair treatment that they deserve.

To learn more about how Parallel Technologies can help you with your data center contact Nate Clyde at nclyde@ptnet.com

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