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Data centre locations: In the city or up the country?

Right place, right time

Sponsored article The obvious difference between using a data centre in the city centre compared to the country is cost, but other factors such as proximity to fibre connections, accessibility, security and just plain convenience, might well lure you back to the centre. Let’s help you decide whether you’d prefer your infrastructure to be uptown, top ranking, or just on a farm.

Every data centre analysis starts with the financials because it is this dimension that fuelled the expansion of independent data centres in the first place. Building an enterprise data centre was never cheap but getting someone else to do it shunted the bill from Capital expenditure to Operational expenditure, an accountant’s dream. It is the underlying logic that has driven the rise of many IT services.

Co-located, carrier-neutral facilities are the ultimate expression of this in that they promise the commoditised simplicity of a given set of features at a given, predictable price.

Deciding where to put your infrastructure used to be mainly driven by cost considerations. There was no space left at your central office location so you looked for the cheapest alternative. Space is cheaper in the countryside than in the city and remote management would solve the problem of actually getting there, after an initial tour of course.

Future-proofing the decision meant buying, or renting, the best possible hardware, ensuring decent fast links, a secure power supply and hoping for the best But a check list of power, connectivity and hardware is not so relevant to the demands of today’s businesses. Nor, with ever-shrinking hardware, is there such a need for physical space.

Modern infrastructure decisions are driven by applications. Businesses are increasingly reliant on enterprise applications. Cost still matters but the value of the applications to the business is far greater. Many businesses could not function without fast access to their core applications.

Admittedly apps don’t mind where they are but they do care about latency. This used to mean being close to the end user. Although this is still important the big change today is that apps need to be close to other apps.

Almost all enterprise applications rely on other applications to work. They need fast access to other cloud services, audit systems, content management systems and a plethora of other applications. Your customer relationship management system needs to connect to your logistics systems, sales management, payroll and enterprise resource planning to name but four. This complexity is getting worse not better.

The vast majority of data exchanges on a typical business network are now between applications not between applications and users. This is the latency that out-of-town data centres can struggle with.

As enterprises make increasing use of Internet of Things technology and artificial intelligence to bolster decision-making the data demands between applications will continue to grow.

Telling the future is a tricky but it is a good bet that the business of the future will be making more, not less, use of applications and that those applications will be making more use of data from a growing number of existing applications.

Putting your computing power near where that data is being used makes good sense. Future proofing your infrastructure also means making sure your business can make the best use of best-of-breed applications. Looking forward, many of these will be cloud-based and city-based locations give access to internet exchange points which get you to the cloud faster.

At the very least you’re going to need fast access to the big cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

An urban data centre will offer all the big cloud providers along with earlier and better access to new enterprise applications. It will typically have many more carrier access points than its country cousin.

There are other benefits from a city-based co-location partner. Cross connections with similar businesses hosted in the same place can provide shared solutions to common problems. They can provide an instant community to turn to for help. They can provide the ability to quickly test and pilot new applications or give you access to the knowledge that others have gained from running their own pilots.

“An effective IT strategy now rests on harnessing the right infrastructure and connectivity in the right location to deliver exceptional end-user experiences, flex with market demand and keep costs under control. Colocation facilities like ours in central London is in close proximity to millions of consumers and thousands of businesses, as well as countless partners and connectivity providers, it’s become a key location of choice for business-critical and latency-sensitive applications”, says Andrew Fray, Managing Director, Interxion UK.

Some of the other items on your checklist have not really changed in recent years. Access to a skilled workforce is still easier in Shoreditch than in Suffolk. Getting hold of great engineers is still a barrier for many businesses. London’s workforce gives you the best chance of finding those people. Third party staff whether at the data centre or from vendors are also likely to be at the top of their game.

Remote management can obviously deal with most of the day-to-day issues with running data centre hardware. But the time you do need access is when something goes wrong and you’re going to need it in a hurry. The last thing you want to include in your disaster recovery plan is the engineering and strike schedule for Southern trains.

As most businesses are now even more reliant on their applications they have even less tolerance for downtime – if it happens at all it needs to be measured in minutes not hours.

Hardware maintenance agreements will guarantee deliver of spare parts within a set time, but this is more likely to actually happen, and happen faster, with a delivery address in the city. Problems created by weather and power outages can of course hit cities and countryside alike. But the roads are likely to be reopened, and the lights come back on, more quickly in London than in rural Lincolnshire. Any data centre worthy of serious attention will have proper UPS and power back-up in place. It will also have rigorous security of access. But convenience of access is important in more than just a disaster.

Every data centre has a dirty secret – a list of niggling little jobs that should be done but aren’t urgent. There’s always a fan sounding not quite right or cabling that needs a tidy. Letting those small things add up until the next site visit to a remote location can increase business risk.

City locations give staff the ability to pop in to sort little issues and do a bit of preventative maintenance without taking a whole day out of the office. Keeping on top of those little gremlins can stop them becoming big problems. Frequent visits can also uncover potential problems before they become an issue.

Having co-lo close to home also allows staff to better timetable hardware changes to quiet periods on the system, if you still have such a luxury.

There are other community aspects to a centrally located data centre. Your staff get to meet other people running similar infrastructure. Best practise gets exchanged and new partners found.

If you need to do take potential customers on a data centre tour, or get technical staff into meetings, then again a central location has the advantage.

London still has the advantage when it comes to these less tangible issues.

The old checks still apply. The data centre needs to be physically secure with properly controlled access. It needs resilient and redundant power supplies, fire suppression and cooling systems and multiple connectivity links. Almost as important as actually having these things you need to make very sure that your contract not only guarantees them, but also agrees on how their performance is measured.

Contracts should also clearly define responsibilities - you don’t want to argue about who’s to blame for a power outage during the actual outage.

But beyond those basics the primary factors for deciding on the location of your data centre will come from the applications you run. For mission-critical and response-time sensitive applications for users in London there’s still no replacement for a data centre in the city.

If your applications are not mission-critical and time-sensitive, then you either need better applications or you need to find a cloud provider to run them for you, not a co-location provider.

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