The Customer is Always Right: Remaining Relevant in the World of Data Centers

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Jim Smith is Chief Technology Officer of Digital Realty (NYSE:DLR) and is responsible for overseeing data center development, delivering more than 500MW of data center projects totaling more than a billion dollars of capital investment. Smith also leads Digital Realty’s sustainability and energy efficiency initiatives.

Jim_Smith_DRJIM SMITH
Digital Realty

As more and more enterprises turn to the cloud for their data transfer and storage needs, demand for leading-edge data centers is increasing. And the ability of a data center owner/operator to understand and embrace the evolving IT needs of its customers can be the difference between remaining relevant and becoming extinct in today’s highly competitive business environment.

In the spirit of carrying out 2013 New Year’s resolutions geared toward customer satisfaction, data center owner/operators could do worse than to focus on one or more of the following areas: availability, multi-tiering, Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM), financial flexibility and rapid delivery.

Striving for the ‘Five Nines’

In the realm of data centers, the degree to which a system is operable and committable is the go-to metric. Everybody wants high availability, but the concept is rarely mentioned during the pre-sale because it has become an assumed deliverable. Nonetheless, we should all be striving for the “five nines,” which translates to a downtime of just more than five minutes per year. However, there are a limited number of data center providers that have the either the operating history or ability to demonstrate a track record of five nines in availability.

While high availability remains the industry standard, with the development of virtualization, new types of facility-aware software and more flexible operating systems, some data center users are becoming more interested in multi-tiering.

Multi-tiering for Redundancy

Multi-tiering refers to an owner/operator’s capacity to provide adequate back-up systems with different maintainability and reliability characteristics in a single facility, campus or data hall. Whether a customer requires one-megawatt or one-kilowatt increments, the ability to adjust capacity and to adapt it to a specific set of applications is invaluable in today’s competitive environment. In other words, redundancy increases relevancy.

One method to apply redundant architecture and then deploy it is to construct a building containing multiple, discrete data centers with variable tiers that share network, storage and monitoring services, which gives a customer the option to deploy on different dimensions.

Allowing for Incremental Deployment

Because of the complicated nature and rigorous cooling requirements of the facilities themselves, data center development projects are capital intensive – probably more so than any other real estate construction undertaking (logistics, retail, mixed-use). As such, they have been receiving a heightened level of scrutiny since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008.

While this increased attention has on occasion created challenges for commercial owners and operators in the data center sector, it has also encouraged the industry to take a prudent approach to the development of these high-cost projects. In general, this is a very positive development for the data center space and has encouraged owner/operators to focus on providing their customers with a financial flexibility that allows them to deploy capital resources incrementally.

In other words, several pre-meditated investments can be made over an agreed upon period of time versus committing a capital deployment all at once. Customers appreciate this flexibility.

Minimizing Downtime via Rapid Delivery

Downtime is the bane of enterprises that rely heavily on the cloud for the delivery of their products, which brings to mind the troubles that a popular video streaming provider experienced on Christmas Eve 2012 when an AWS outage impeded its service on some devices. As you can imagine, consumers were up in arms as they have come to expect immediate gratification when it comes to downloading content on their handheld gadgets, tablets, laptops, personal computers and home media systems.

Data center customers that serve these consumers expect their existing facilities to be highly available. And in terms of expansion, whether building a brand new facility or performing a system upgrade, they want rapid delivery of new or improved data centers in order to minimize the risk of downtime—thereby minimizing the risk of alienating consumers.

When asked in what increments they would prefer to expand their data centers’ IT capacities, 65 percent of our customers said during a recent survey conducted by Digital Realty’s operations teams that growing in increments of 250 kilowatts at a time would be ideal. Ultimately, the key consideration should be how to scale-up as non-invasively as possible.

Keeping Your Eye on Customer Needs

The key to longevity for a data center owner/operator is to keep a finger on the pulse of its customers – to not only ask the hard questions but to ask them early and often in any given relationship. The most successful of these are collaborative in nature, with owner/operators and their customers partnering closely over the long term to satisfy the evolving IT requirements of a business.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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