Gaining a Competitive Edge in 2021

How colocation and multi-tenant data centers are the future when it comes to speed and efficiency

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s how adaptability in the face of worldwide change is key to business survival. Our lives have never been quite so dependent on data centers; a sector which has witnessed unprecedented growth over the last decade, and in particular, the last few years.

Previously dominated by purpose-built on-premise enterprise data centers, we are now seeing a shift to off-premise colocation and cloud data centers. With a global spend of over USD 38 billion on colocation services predicted by 2023, and multi-tenant centers experiencing 5 percent growth in 2018, it is safe to say this trend is set to continuei.

The colocation advantage

With more and more businesses looking to undertake digital transformation in 2021, the global figure for data consumption is predicted to rise to a staggering 74 zettabytes in 2021, from 59 zettabytes in 2020ii, and the crucial decision these businesses face is whether to create their own on-premise data center, or to rely on colocation services.

The primary benefits for enterprise clients to use colocation are clear:

  • Lowering your carbon footprint: With Microsoft aiming to be carbon negative by 2030iii, and Google planning to operate carbon-free by the same yeariv, corporate sustainability is high on the agenda for 2021. By offering businesses renewable energy alternatives to standard data center enterprises, colocation data centers allow companies to meet those corporate sustainability goals. Here at ABB, we are always striving to do more to achieve carbon neutrality and reduce our emissions across the whole supply chain, and are proud to support our customers in reducing their annual CO2 emissions by at least 100 megatonnes, equivalent to the yearly emissions of 30 million combustion carsv
  • Scalability: Colocation data centers allow companies to build rapidly at scale and just in time to meet their customer’s exact needs, offering businesses flexibility and the ability to grow quickly when needed
  • Less infrastructure: Companies can easily rent colocation data center space from third parties or utilize cloud data centers, thus eliminating the need for investment in costly infrastructure such as building, cooling and security
  • Time: Companies can eliminate the need to manage IT components, including servers, data storage and firewalls, freeing up time to focus on their own business
  • Latest and best: Working with a colocation data center means you are effectively their client, so it is in their interest to make sure that their security is second to none, and the technology is the very latest and best. One important way they ensure downtime is kept to a minimum is by relying on redundancy to guarantee uninterrupted power, internet connection, security and temperature management
  • Less responsibility: One of the reassuring features of most colocation services (especially in emergencies) is the professional IT support they offer. By off-loading a large portion of support responsibilities to your colocation data center, your IT staff can prioritize other projects, which saves additional time and money.

Setting a global trend

With colocation data centers presenting a vast array of advantages, it can be easy to see why it’s now setting a new global trend. South East Asia is an emerging market that is predicted to be a strong player in the colocation segment in 2021 and beyond, along with the largest city in the Americas, São Paulo. Both of these are currently underserved when it comes to data centers, but we are now seeing big enterprises moving in to buy-up the local colocation providers to increase their footprint in these fast-developing markets.

North America, Europe and Asia continue to be the strongest players in the retail and wholesale colocation segment, however with space, rising costs and reliable power at a premium in these established markets, new emerging markets such as India are now offering viable and alternative locations. The Indian data center industry is very buoyant thanks to the country being transformed into a research and development hub for many global technology and pharmaceutical companies.

Staying ahead of the curve

As more enterprises move from on-premise data centers to retail and wholesale colocation providers to reduce their costs and to rent space, racks and cages, we know that the demand for colocation data centers is set to accelerate.

With such rising demand, builders and system integrators need to enable simpler and faster deployments and expansions.

So, how do colocation data centers guarantee timeliness and budget control without compromising on quality standards and security protocols?

To stay ahead of the curve, operators need to review alternative options in the design, build and management of colocation projects. A pre-engineered product package or prefabricated skid solution, built in an offsite facility, can present a viable alternative to traditional bricks and mortar construction.

Modular system solutions which feature prefabricated eHouses and skid-mounted power substations including switchgear, transformers and other electrification components in one, offer flexibility, a higher level of safety and integration of intelligent technology, shorter build schedules and most importantly, greater power reliability.

Modular data centers offer a more compact, timely, scalable and convenient method of deploying data capacity and standardized power infrastructure to where it is needed.

Data center modularization also offers significant benefits in terms of build and testing as much of the build and pre-commissioning work is taken away from a construction site. Costly delays are prevented through parallel stage builds instead of sequential build procedures seen on construction sites.

Projects can be fast tracked, and risks are further mitigated with offsite testing being undertaken in a controlled environment thereby protecting the system integrity and providing peace of mind for operators. This type of approach offers the same level of rigor, consistency and quality as achieved in a traditional data center build, with program timelines being unaffected by onsite testing and engineering works.

Shaping the future

Google’s huge global outage at the end of 2020 showed us that even the biggest hyperscale data centers are not immune to their share of issues and downtime incidents.

Two words that have a great deal of significance when it comes to looking ahead to where the data center sector is headed, are speed and simplicity. As Christian Belady, Vice President of Microsoft said, when explaining that if Microsoft’s control systems, their ways of reacting, their crisis management are not simple, then they’re not going to be effective, “The sheer scale of it all, drives simplicity.”

At ABB we believe this sentiment of keeping things simple is one of key importance; not ‘simple’ in terms of functionality, but simple in terms of being able to isolate a potential problem and resolve issues quickly and efficiently. It is better to fail “small” and lose one computer rather than one rack, lose one rack rather than one row, one row than one pod and so on, so if we can identify and isolate the issues quickly and simply, then this will help to ensure possible future outages are kept to a minimum.

There is no doubt that this need for speed and simplicity will continue to shape colocation data center development, as demand for enterprise data and services continues to grow. Emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles, “massive” 5G and smart cities, working from home as a norm will drive the need for colocation at the “edge” and for near real time performance and further efficiency.

In our ever-connected world, our thirst for data is all consuming; if we are to keep pace we will have to think with speed and think simple. It’s as simple as that.

iC. Flanagan, “Gaining a Competitive Edge”, ABB white paper, 2017, pp. 1-11.

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About the author

Brian C. Johnson

I am the Global Data Center Segment Manager for ABB. We provide products, automation and solutions to Data Center customers and integrators. We have extensive domain expertise and experience in the fast-growing Data Center industry, driving our deep commitment and support for our customers. Prior to this role, I ran the packaging and solutions business for ABB Electrification, offering pre-designed and pre-built solutions for the Data Center market. These solutions reduce costs, risks and lead times for our customers, bringing together many ABB products into one simplified package. I have worked in ABB for many years and have had the joy of working with many good people. I am excited to continue to serve our Data Center customers and help them succeed as our abilities continuously become more sophisticated.
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