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Data centers really came of age in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the beginning they were simply a safe and protected place to house a company’s hardware. They were basically warehouses, but they were warehouses that could keep sophisticated technology safe from natural disasters and security threats.

With the rapid spread of the World Wide Web (remember when we still called it that?), data centers had to keep up with lightning-fast technology shifts and new customer priorities. Very quickly, the ‘tech warehouse’ model evolved, as the need increased for high-speed connectivity from server to server and data center to data center.

An evolution in demand demanded an evolution in how data centers do business and maintain relationships with carriers and service providers. In order to be successful, data centers had to build rich connectivity ecosystems in addition to the tried-and-true products that clients and partners expected.

The lifeblood of the cloud

The days of the single stand-alone server are over. Today, everyone is looking for more data accessibility and faster transmission through the cloud. Consumers demand better and faster cloud performance, yet your average person is most likely completely unaware of the critical role data centers play in, say, making sure they can stream their favorite show without it buffering every five minutes.

Here are some examples you can use to explain to clueless friends and family why they should be thanking their friendly, neighborhood data center:

  • GPS has been around for years, helping consumers get around unfamiliar locations and providing guidance in remote areas. Now, that data resides in the cloud and is transferred to users through data centers.
  • The cloud, and in turn data centers, also fuel online shopping. When you find yourself on a shopping spree at 03:00 in your pajamas, that information travels to the retailer via the cloud and the data center.
  • Because of the pandemic, ordering food for takeout or delivery via smartphone has become the de facto way for many people to eat out. It's also made possible by data center connectivity.

Cloud computing — the latest agent of change

The rise and near-ubiquity of cloud has disrupted almost every industry, data centers included. Smart data centers saw it as an opportunity to transition from legacy hardware to more robust design solutions — including new hardware, software, and infrastructure—to keep pace with the growing cloud market.

Our job as data center providers is to provide a secure, stable environment for our clients by being as prepared as possible for whatever the future can throw at us. But how do we accommodate our clients' present needs while looking ahead to tomorrow?

First, get some backbone

Data centers need to consider infrastructure and their ability to handle the increased network traffic and data transmission created by hyperscale enterprises. That requires a strong, dynamic connectivity and infrastructure backbone adaptable enough to respond to unexpected spikes in demand.

Next, check your software

The software needs to be able to handle ever-increasing application performance and cloud compute requirements. Software-defined networking (SDN) can create more operational efficiencies while reducing operational expenditures. SDN will improve the scalability and elasticity of network services as more companies hedge their approach with hybrid IT that combines on-premises, data center and cloud solutions.

Finally, you need strong-yet-flexible hardware

Your hardware has to be robust enough to handle increased performance, yet efficient enough to reduce costs associated with operation and energy consumption. The latest automation tech requires fewer resources to implement and maintain, yet provides data centers like ours with enhanced monitoring capabilities, clearer visibility and more actionable data analytics.

Colocation can make or break a data center

Colocation in the age of cloud is a necessity. Placing multiple data center locations around a particular region, or even the world, vastly improves the connectivity by stitching disparate geographies together, increasing redundancy and reducing the distance data has to travel (i.e. making the best out of the speed of light).

Latency will always be the currency by which cloud is measured. Colocation helps customers deal with spikes in data transmission demand — as we've seen in surges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

They say money makes the world go round. Latency can stop the world from turning.

Simply put, data centers bridge communications between consumers and the cloud. When you stream a TV show, that data goes through the cloud on connectivity provided by data centers. Even hyperscalers depend on data centers when demand spikes.

The illustration below shows the flow of data in the cloud from a data center through to various cloud platforms.

Everything as a service

You’ve probably heard of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), but there are a host of service-based solutions out there, and data centers benefit from many of them. Even though data centers have evolved tremendously, we always need to be vigilant for new and better ways to service our clients.

For example, data center infrastructure management (DCIM) enables data centers to operate more efficiently through automation and enhanced infrastructure planning and design. In essence, DCIM could potentially allow us to do more for clients while expending fewer resources.

Another tool in the smart data center’s toolbox is the Self-Healing Network. This technology identifies and troubleshoots network problems and rapidly remediates any network outages and failures, without the need for human intervention. This means fewer outages and shorter downtime in the event of an actual incident.

But what does this all mean for data center clients and partners?

Data centers have come a long way, but there will always be more to do and novel ways to do things better.

If a data center is not investing in new approaches, infrastructure, technology, processes, training or any other function critical to clients and partners, it's fairly likely that they also won't be investing in your success. Just ‘maintaining’ is not a sign of stability or longevity.

Stability is the foundation on which we build service. And service goes hand-in-hand with investing in client success.

So, all this means that if you happen to be evaluating a potential data center provider or partner, and they're still operating in ‘warehouse mode’, it's best that you move on.