Mobility’s impact on your data centre decisions
By Mark Thiele November 20, 2013
- While data is data, there are some difference between traditional compute model and mobility model
- These include where and when data is created, how it’s transmitted, how it’s likely to be used, etc.
WHY is the trend towards mobility a major factor in your data centre design and deployment strategy? Will data centres become obsolete or will they require new designs? Maybe we’ll need to build them so they look like a smartphone? Maybe I’ll be able to talk to my data centre, even give it a name.
The whole idea for this blog was generated by a conversation with ‘Mr BYOD’ Brian Katz (@bmkatz), who is always a great guy to test ideas with.
Why would anyone think an increase in mobile (smartphone, tablets, and laptops, etc.) use might have an impact on data centre design or use?
There are a number of likely reasons, some valid and some based on misconceptions about what a data centre is and how mobile solutions use them.
There’s a difference between a ‘data centre strategy’ and ‘data center design.’ There is also a delineation to be made between what Cisco, HP or VMware call a data centre (the IT infrastructure) and an actual data centre facility.
The impact of mobility is much more likely to be felt in data centre facility strategies. If we think through how the use of compute in a mobile context utilises backend systems like the data centre, we might gain a better view of reality vs. hype.
Let’s start by ensuring we’re on all the same page relative to what constitutes mobile. Mobile in the context of this blog pertains to all forms of compute, communication, data creating/ sharing, and or consumption/ output devices that are easily portable.
The next thing to remember is that a text message sent via a cellphone is no different than one sent via a desktop computer. An email generated on a tablet is exactly like an email created on your office computer. Data generated from wearable computing devices such as a Fitbit or Google Glass are no different than data created on an office-based machine or a video camera.
So what’s the difference? There are several real differences between traditional compute models and the mobile options I mentioned above. The primary differences are where and when data is created, how it’s transmitted, how it’s likely to be used, and lastly, how it’s likely to grow.
The real impact
Let’s step back for a second and think about the data centre strategy of old (1970-2010), which was very fixed in nature and tended towards fewer data centres mostly owned by the companies creating the data.
In other words, a company would define its data centre strategy on a fairly simple set of criteria associated with office population locations, where specific types of work would be done, and then the scale and resiliency requirements.
There are many other criteria but these are the biggest drivers that dictate where, how many, and how big your data centres were.
In the mobility influenced future, how will a company easily determine with any real degree of accuracy where most of its work will be done and how long it will be done there? This is one of the biggest questions that mobility places on the doorstep of the IT organisation.
Historically, owning and building data centre has been like a living with a 15-year business plan. No (effective) business plan has ever lasted more than three years, so the old strategy was already broken, but now mobility compounds the situation.
Let’s break down my last sentence from the previous section: The primary differences are where and when data is created, how it’s transmitted, how it’s likely to be used, and lastly how it’s likely to grow.
Where and when data is created
The fact that data can be created in different locations with varying degrees of scale and importance creates several points of stress. These points include traditional office-data centre network connections and the location of the data centres in relation to where the data is being used by applications or the consumer.
In the case of the network, since you no longer have fixed point-to-point location use characteristics, your application designs and your global network capabilities will need to be assessed and modified.
You must ensure that regardless of where there’s demand, your infrastructure and data centre locations can support latency and performance requirements.
How is that problem resolved relative to data centre locations? My suggestion regarding data centre location decisions is that we need to develop our data centre strategy using much the same thinking that would go into how, where, and who does our manufacturing.
Few large companies today do the majority of their manufacturing for obvious reasons of investment, scale management, location and or political benefits, business dynamics, etc. How we utilise compute in the modern era of mobility and agile operating models is no different.
So the need here is to strategically consider what you should own. Identify partners who can help you manage regional and global distribution via cloud, hosting, or colocation-based services and all with an underlying goal of keeping 20% or less of your capacity in internal data centres longer term.
How it’s transmitted
There isn’t any real difference in how data is transmitted, but there is a difference in how your network will need to scale and how fungible it might need to be.
The performance of mobile devices over a cell or wireless network is difficult if not impossible to manage, so your best bet is to make your network as big and flexible as you can afford.
Big applies to where you have I/O to a facility, and fungible applies to how easily you can modify your network capabilities and capacity. In other words, you want the shortest possible (affordable) distance and you want the biggest pipes with the most manageable contract language.
The demands for network are likely to translate to more IP capacity and capability (vs. fixed or MPLS type designs), with contracts that allow for low cost, short-term use (one month), and little or no minimums.
How it’s likely to be used
This area of concern overlaps each of the previous two bullets. The method of use will dictate network capability, along with data centre locations and scale.
Again, we’re only talking about the facility, not the IT infrastructure.
How it’s likely to grow
This folks is the proverbial billion-dollar question. Many have written about the potential explosion in technology use as a result of cloud computing (see my old blog), mobility, wearable computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
I think it’s safe to say that we still don’t have a clue as to how big our technology footprint will become in coming years, but it’s likely to get very big, in the neighbourhood of quadrupling from its current total spend by 2023.
So even though we’re seeing miniaturization, greater compute density with lower power use, and increased disk and memory capacities, we will still see our environments as a whole more than double in size over the next 10 years.
So while mobility doesn’t necessarily change data centre design, it could definitely contribute to your scale requirements. Considering the fact that the expected impact on scale of this explosion in technology isn’t easily quantified, or timed, it seems to further justify distributing your risk relative to data centre ownership.
Lastly, as the demand for compute accelerates, the need to save resources, space, sustainability and cost will continue to drive compute density. Therefore an indirect impact from mobility and cloud, etc., will be a greater need for data centres that can handle high density environments of 25kW or greater per cabinet.
The simple answer: Yes and no
Mobility will definitely impact your data centre strategy, but not in the way many are suggesting. Our best option for dealing with the new demands of mobility is to think flexibility.
Building your data centres in one to three fixed locations based on ‘expected’ future growth of offices and demand can’t possibly take into account the potential changes mobility, cloud and IoT will bring in use characteristics.
Also, by having all your data centres internal, you can’t leverage the ecosystems or network buying power of a strong partner.
Apply those lessons you’re learning about Agile IT to your data centre capacity ownership strategy. Leverage professional external resources for ecosystem, capacity, location, and network, while focusing on innovation with internal staff.
Now you can go back to having nightmares about how your future data centre will be calling you at home and asking you, “Why don’t you have your phone with you Dave? … I might need you.”
Mark Thiele is the executive vice-president of Data Center Tech at Switch Communications. He is a long-time blogger and enthusiastic industry evangelist. This was first published as a blog here and is reprinted on DNA with his permission.
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