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In a constantly shifting digital landscape, how can companies adapt their data center footprint to support dynamic needs and demands? We hosted a panel at DatacenterDynamics San Francisco to break down the most important factors that data center buyers are considering when shopping around.

Moderated by Steven Warren of DCD, the panel also included a powerful lineup of industry experts who shared their insight: David Liggett of datacenterHawk, Ali Greenwood of Cushman & Wakefield, and Mike Souza, our Director of Enterprise Accounts here at the Global Data Centers Americas division of NTT. Together they discussed how these factors function in a business that is hardly one size fits all, and how sometimes what a client wants differs from what they actually need.

1.    Cost and speed

While this is a cost-driven business, it can be a mistake to focus too much on the price tag. A low dollar per kW doesn’t always give companies the best solution for long-term success. It’s also about speed to market, and the right data center partner can mean the difference between the success and failure of a product.

For example, let’s say you're a financial services company, and your primary product is an electronic trading platform that's housed in a hybrid environment—split between private cloud and colocation data center. Anything that inhibits the communication between the two disparate parts of your infrastructure can slow the execution of trades and can potentially cost your customers considerable sums.

There's also the time it takes to deploy, provision and generally get the client's infrastructure up and running. A valuable data center partner will do everything they can to ensure that it's as quick and painless for the client as possible—ensuring that the client's product gets to market as expected. Delays or setbacks could potentially sacrifice the client's competitive advantage, and in the worst case, the overall health of their entire business.

So, time is literally money when it comes to both getting clients rolling as fast as possible and ensuring low-latency connectivity. When looking for a data center provider, it's best to equally scrutinize TCO, the provider's connectivity strategy, and their approach to service and support.

“It's easy to get laser-focused on cost. I think it's important to remember that while the cost is such a big part of the decision-making process, you also have to think about the partner that you're choosing to do this project with, because these partnerships, at least from my experience, they stick around for a while. You want to make sure that the partners that you choose are worth it in the long run, because an extra $5 or $10 a KW as it relates to rate, or a little bit of an extra power cost here might be worth the right partner over a long period of time.”

-David Liggitt, datacenterHawk

2.    Security and compliance

At this point, customers consider compliance to be a given. That can mean up to 30,000 or 40,000 unique jurisdictions where providers need to meet compliance requirements just to meet base-level expectations. Physical security is also table stakes with most providers utilizing very similar tools and technologies to secure their campuses and data centers. Cybersecurity, however, is a top concern, and often differentiator, when deciding on a data center partner.

“I think really the game that we're playing now is around cybersecurity. You know, I read an article just the other day that said in 2020 alone, there were 36 billion breaches of records, of company records, of individuals records. And so this is something, as you all know, that's happening all the time...And it’s certainly about physical security. But it’s also about how the person or the company that you partner with from a co-location or hyperscale perspective is going to set you up for success from a cybersecurity standpoint.”

-David Liggitt, datacenterHawk

3.    Last-mile customization

Developments like the recent explosion of remote work and the increasing digitization of our everyday lives have made last-mile customization more important now more than ever.

Clients are looking for ways to reduce last-mile challenges so they can reach the target markets faster and more efficiently. Data centers facilitate the process by serving as connectivity hubs. They plug clients directly into carrier services, cloud service providers, and more. These direct connections reduce latency and improve performance.

In some cases, companies require specific technology, certain carriers or unique services in order to reach their customers faster. These types of customizations may require dedicated conduits from the client's cage or vault to the data center provider's Carrier-Meet-Me-Room. Customizations of this kind require a certain level of flexibility and adaptability on the part of the provider. But even more than technical specifications, they require a high level of know-how and dedication to service.

“Everything is different. These operators have really driven that flexibility into the data center environments...There are absolutely no two deals that are exactly the same. We are really running the gamut in terms of what we’re seeing from clients, in terms of their ask.”

-Ali Greenwood, Cushman & Wakefield

4.    Growing densities and diverse rack designs

As data center technology and designs have evolved, more are being built to accommodate higher densities. Today, it's not unheard of for a hyperscale client to reach up to 50kW per rack. But the growth isn't limited to hyperscalers - enterprise clients too are looking for ways to up the ante, density-wise.

Higher densities, however, require more infrastructure and technological innovation to maintain. In the past, hyperscalers were the ones who were quick to build their footprints with higher and higher densities. That's likely a function of how often they necessarily have to refresh hardware. Today, hyperconverged infrastructure products make it easier for clients, even at the enterprise-scale, to push the limits of density and hardware.

For example, in the not-so-distant past, immersion cooling technologies were the domain of a very select type of hyperscale client. These days, requests for immersion cooling are still rare, but not out-of-the ordinary. While hardware manufacturers are pushing the envelope of rack and chip design, data centers are on the frontlines of putting them to practical use for clients.       

“Enterprise, as well as a hyperscale, you know, users are certainly finding a maturity that's pushing rack densities to two different levels today than they were even three years ago.”                    

-David Liggitt, datacenterHawk

5.    Network flexibility

Network flexibility is becoming table stakes, including multi-site data center and connectivity options. Customers need to have options because they’re communicating with so many different levels and looking at so many different multi-sites. The more flexibility a company has, the better.

To help customers turn up applications and workloads quickly, some providers pre-plan and procure a dark fiber loop to the main carrier hotels or put fiber in the ground to help ensure speed to market.

“I definitely think that this is something that has pushed the data center operator community to really think through, ‘Hey, how are we presenting a facility and options that will not only solve our customer’s problems today, but also in the future?’ And that’s one of the hardest things that I think everybody is planning for is what they anticipate the future will be.”              

-David Liggitt, datacenterHawk

6.    Corporate sustainability mandates

Corporate sustainability mandates are making their way down into the evaluation process. Over the past ten years, social responsibility has become a much larger focus, for both companies and providers. Potential customers care about renewable energy. They’re concerned with how efficient a data center is, particularly in terms of electrical and  mechanical systems. They want to know that they share values with the companies they’re partnering with, and they want to see their sustainability plans moving forward.

“You’re definitely seeing now every single data center operator out there making a public commitment to renewable energy resources, to sustainability. Efficiency is really, really critical for them.”

-Ali Greenwood, Cushman & Wakefield

7.    Planning for the unknown

Increasingly, larger and larger pieces of contiguous space are becoming part of client "mandatories" when engaging a data center provider. Even if the client doesn't need the space today, space means flexibility and scalability. Hyperscale clients, for example, often need to scale suddenly to meet demand, but they don't often have the ability to predict where or when they'll need to expand their colocation data center footprint. So, having room to grow is a hedge against future uncertainty.

Enterprise clients too, many of whom sell data-and-compute-heavy as-a-service products, may also need considerable runway and scalability potential.

“[Clients] want to know that if they sign up with you, they have flexibility to grow, contract and even shift where they spend their money in terms of services with you on a go forward basis.”

-Ali Greenwood, Cushman & Wakefield

To sum up, the ideas above share one significant thing in common: data center buyers want to know that their organization's priorities and goals can be achieved. Potential providers need to demonstrate that they are flexible enough to help clients maximize the value of their data center investment.