How to create a data centre strategy in the Digital Transformation Era

While the concept of digital transformation has been making the rounds since the late 1990s, it has only now become a business imperative for enterprises to streamline processes, provide flexible and scalable services and remain competitive in an era of choice and convenience.

So it’s no surprise that, despite years of hype, enterprises across most industries are adopting digital technologies to enable new business models. In fact, according to recent statistics from IDC, businesses will have spent approximately $1.2 trillion on digital transformation by the end of 2019, up 18% from last year, in a bid to stand out in the digital economy.

But it’s not always easy to implement a digital transformation strategy. How can businesses embrace digital transformation and become a coveted ‘Digital Enterprise’ – characterised by being highly connected with customers, business partners and suppliers, as well as digitising internal processes and communications? A new approach is required; one that acknowledges the importance of workload location and IT delivery models that provide greater agility and avoid unnecessary capital expenditure.

Sound like a pipe dream? It shouldn’t. In fact, many businesses are doing it right now. In 2016, 63% of IT infrastructure resided in on-premise enterprise data centres, according to a survey by DCD Intelligence. By 2020, this will drop to 51%, as businesses flock to public clouds, colocation centres and outsourced data centres for the elasticity, access to other service users – known as ‘communities’, deployment speeds and flexibility required to operate a successful business today.

Tell me more about this wonderful new approach, you ask. Without further ado, here’s our quick-fire ‘how to’ guide on how to create a data centre strategy in the digital transformation era.

Have you classified your workloads? Mission-Criticality or Business Impact

In the digital transformation era, workload location matters more than ever. Before embarking on your new data centre strategy, it’s important to acknowledge that the IT delivery strategy of IT organisations doesn’t change overnight. It shifts in waves, influenced by aspects as cloud adoption, infrastructure refresh or consolidation initiatives and capex optimisation efforts.  

Plotting workloads is important to gain insight into where and how to invest your time and resources. Different applications (enhanced connections with customers, improved decision making, or the automation of manual tasks) require vastly different support.

There are two vectors for effectively classifying workloads: mission-criticality or business impact. Is a workload critical for day-to-day operations? Does a workload provide a direct competitive advantage or does it primarily support business operations? Be diligent in classifying your workloads before moving on to the next few stages of your data centre strategy, as we see below. Different applications will require different answers in the next four areas, therefore it’s important to evaluate the appropriate model to support them.

What’s your data strategy?

Which data sets are key to the application strategy and what is the best data architecture for optimising application performance?

Data is the lifeblood of any Digital Enterprise. According to statistics from Raconteur, our entire digital universe is expected to reach 44 zettabytes by 2020. That’s A LOT of information. Data centres are naturally the homes for this data, so a successful data centre strategy starts with a deep understanding of what types of data need to be accessed by the workloads that are served out of an of premise data centre. These data cnetres can also offer on-ramp services to other service providers including Cloud Service Porviders, Data Software Vendors, Market Data Providers and core Network Service Prividers.

Successful digital transformation therefore depends on the creation of a data architecture that provides optimal access to the relevant data in a timely, secure and reliable manner. For applications where response time and performance are non-negotiable, close proximity between the workload and the data it needs to access is crucial. Similarly, if security is the main concern, access control and data protection mechanisms should be prioritised.

Joining the dots with an interconnectivity strategy

So you’ve classified your workloads and you have a good grasp of your data strategy. Now it’s time to think about how to connect dispersed applications and associated data in the most effective and economically viable way.

Traditionally, enterprise network architectures have relied on corporate WANs to connect the company’s office and enterprise data centres. The data centre acts as the hub within the WAN, and hosts most or all private applications and data. This architecture is becoming rapidly obsolete, as Digital Enterprises now look to cloud services as an alternative. By rethinking their networking strategies, businesses are now orienting their network architecture towards Interconnection Hubs at the edge of the WAN, where they can gain private access to cloud services. This has a significant impact on the next stage of the data centre strategy. Review Interxion’c Cloud interconnectivity services – Cloud Connect to see how we can provide unrivalled EMEA connectivity to all leading CSPs.

Workload placement strategy

What is the best data centre location for specific workloads, based on mission-criticality and performance impact on customers? Workloads should be placed in the physical location (data centre) that provides the best fit for the objectives set within the overall digital transformation initiative. There are three options for workload placement:

  1. An enterprise data centre – on premise (data or server room) and usually owned or controlled by the enterprise IT team
  2. A third-party single-tenant data centre – a data centre controlled (owned and/or operated) by a third party, but with the sole basis of serving one enterprise
  3. A third-party, multi-tenant data centre – a data centre controlled (owned and/or operated) by a third party, hosting multiple organisations

It’s unlikely that any Digital Enteprise that requires on-demand agility and flexibility will be able to operate high performance applications solely from an on-premise data centre. However, third-party, multi-tenant data centres (aka colocation centres) are becoming an increasingly popular option for businesses looking to embrace digital transformation and all the benefits that these hubs of connectivity bring.

However, deciding between the three options outlined here will largely depend on the applications being managed, and how the IT infrastructure is managed. This brings us to our final stage in the data centre strategy.

Operations management strategy

What skills, resources and processes are required to manage the applications and the underlying infrastructure in a way that reduces cost and mitigates risk? The quality of service delivered by any organisation comes down to the quality of the IT operations management. For Digital Enterprises, it’s important to choose an operational model that fits each individual application, as different workloads are likely to be based in different locations – internally and externally.

The options are as follows:

  1. In-house operations – the organisation is responsible for the management of IT
  2. Managed operations – outsourcing the management of IT to a third party, with dedicated personnel in a dedicated environment
  3. As-a-service – a blend of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS services sourced from public cloud providers, who deliver the services with personnel that manage a shared environment for multiple customers

Choosing between these options depends on the workload classification and the specific requirements of the organisation. For start-ups, it’s relatively easy to move to the public cloud outright. But a more complex organisation must deal with the trade off between compliance, performance requirements and legacy IT. For this reason, a hybrid approach, blending a combination of all three options, makes the most sense.

Embracing digital transformation

Data centres are officially part of the fabric of the Digital Enterprise, as organisations embrace third-party infrastructure services to drive their transformation agendas. We’ve only just scratched the surface here of how to build a data centre strategy, with colocated data centres playing an important alternative in the organisation’s IT infrastructure and management.

If you’re interested in hearing more about how to build a data centre strategy that works for your business, have a look at our whitepaper, which you can download here:

Alternatively, feel free to get in touch and we’d be happy to have a chat!