Research by the Uptime Institute has highlighted the latest trends in the data centre sector – the majority are adopting a hybrid strategy, although an ‘exodus’ to the Cloud has not materialised. Avoiding downtime remains a priority but are enterprises over-confident in their IT resilience strategies? Louise Frampton reports…
A global survey of more than 1,000 data centre executives, conducted by the Uptime Institute, reveals that hybrid data centre infrastructure is now the dominant strategy for enterprises – organisations have their own data centre infrastructure, but are using colocation providers, as well as some Cloud providers.
While the majority of IT organisations are moving some of their workloads to the Cloud, the percentage of workloads residing in enterprise-owned/operated data centres has remained stable at 65% since 2014.
On average, respondents reported that nearly two-thirds of their IT assets are currently deployed in their own data centres, with 22% deployed in colocation or multi-tenant data centre providers, and 13% deployed in the Cloud.
With the explosive growth in business critical applications and data, enterprises continue to see the data centre as not just important but essential to their digital-centric strategies.
“We are not seeing a wholesale exodus to the Cloud platform… Enterprise-owned data centres are still the primary compute venues,” says Uptime Institute senior director of content and publications Matt Stansberry.
However, the survey does reveal that the Cloud is ‘siphoning off’ some workloads, although this trend was more prevalent among the largest organisations.
Other findings include the fact that 60% of IT server footprints are flat or shrinking. “There are some reasons why this run-away growth has been slowing,” Stansberry explains.
“We are seeing a continuation of Moore’s law. Processors are going to get smaller, more efficient and less expensive.” He points out that there is increased performance at the processor level, continued adoption of server virtualisation, and rapid Cloud computing adoption.
“People are getting increased efficiency and better performance out of their existing assets,” explains Stansberry. The survey also found that around half of enterprise facility teams are updating legacy sites.
The Uptime Institute points out that if organisations are making the most out of existing assets and upgrading live sites, operations (sequencing, training and maintenance) becomes even more critical, especially at older facilities.
The survey found that data centre budgets have remained strong in 2017. Compared to 2016, nearly 75% of companies’ data centre budgets have increased or stayed consistent this year.
Data centre resilience
IT resilience is growing, complementing redundancy. The majority of companies (68%) rely on IT-based resiliency. Using an IT architecture with multiple, geographically distributed data centres, they rely on live application failover in the event of an outage.
At the same time, 73% of respondents said they are not deploying lower redundancy physical data centre sites despite increased adoption of IT-based resilience.
“You still need to have the batteries, the UPS, the diesel generators,” says Stansberry. “People are not ready to make the leap.”
Nevertheless, the majority of respondents were confident in their organisation’s multi-site IT resilience strategy (68%) and said they believed that their IT services would ‘function as expected’ in the event of an outage.
However, the Uptime Institute issued a word of warning, citing the example of Southwest Airlines in the US. A single router error set off systemic failures.
“They had a plan for failover and it didn’t work… In the process of this IT resiliency failure, millions were lost in earnings and stock devaluation,” Stansbury comments. “Generators and UPSs are cheaper than this kind of crippling outage.”
Downtime matters, as the survey shows: more than 90% of data centre and IT professionals believe their corporate management is more concerned about outages now than they were just a year ago. While 90% of organisations conduct root cause analysis of any IT outage, only 60% report that they measure the cost of downtime as a business metric, however.
Growth in Tier certification
The Uptime Institute also reports significant growth in Tier certifications in the established data centre sectors, particularly the UK, Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt. However, it sees the most growth in the newer markets where data centres are less established:
“Organisations are seeking reassurance that they are not over-engineering their data centres or building in faults that they may not find for four or five years,” says managing director Phil Collerton.
“Certification is also important to shareholders. Within the banking sector in Turkey, for example, there are strict rules about keeping data onsite, so brand-new data centres are being built and everyone is becoming Tier certified. There is an element of competition driving this trend…Banks are saying ‘our competitor is Tier 3 certified, so why aren’t we?’ If you are spending $50m you [and your shareholders] want to know it is being spent wisely.”
The Uptime Institute is focused on risk-mitigation, compliance and ensuring best practice. However, each regional market is different in terms of maturity, so the focus may vary.
“The UK, Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt built their data centres around 15-20 years ago and they are running strong. When you have been running something for that long, you know its strengths and weaknesses; where the points of failure are and you take the operational procedures to avoid it,” says Collerton.
He points out that in the more mature markets, where there is not a lot of building going on, operational best practice is the main focus. “If you run a portfolio of data centres how do you know team A, B and C are doing the same thing?”
Internal audits can be conducted but the results risk being biased, he points out. A third-party, independent assessment can be performed, using common criteria, developed with 25 global data centre companies, to evaluate staffing, training, maintenance, management, capacity planning and operations.
All the factors that affect day-to-day data centre operations are assessed: “We look at how the site is running equipment – for example, are they ‘killing’ the UPS? Have the alarms been set properly? Is it always on the job training for the staff? How do they work with their vendors? How often are they cancelling maintenance?”
Comparisons can be made with other sites within an enterprise’s data centre portfolio.
In Africa, where there is currently significant investment, the Uptime Institute is working with governments on flagship projects – such as ensuring the reliability of the first sub-Saharan electronic voting operation. Countries in these regions, that want to secure inward investment, need to demonstrate that their infrastructure and operations meet internationally recognised certification.
It is not just emerging markets that can benefit, however: “Germany has the TUV standard, which is good, but businesses outside the country want a global standard that they understand,” says Collerton.
“Spain and Italy are strong markets for us, as they are building new infrastructure.”
The Uptime Institute technical team is two-thirds engineering and one-third operations and best practice. This is key to the organisation’s approach: “We are not prescriptive. We start by asking, ‘what do you use the data centre for?’ It is not about ‘how many UPSs you need or how much redundancy you need. What is the business reason behind the data centre?” Collerton explains.
“We often have people contact us and say ‘we want a Tier 4’… it is the most complex, but it may not be right for your business. It may be too complex… We find that we frequently have to talk people down from Tier 4 to a Tier 3, saving them money in design and certification costs. In some markets, they want ‘a Ferrari’ when a Ford Mondeo will suit their purposes.”
The Uptime Institute is recognised worldwide for the creation and administration of the rigorous Tier standards and certifications that enable data centres to achieve their mission while mitigating risk. It has awarded about 1,200 certifications in more than 80 countries and rained nearly 2,000 professionals with accredited Tier training.