Large server room with stark overhead lighting.

Redefining Key Data Center Services for Today’s Knowledge-Based Economy

16 Sep 2016 by Howard M Cohen

What are data centers and why do they matter? We ask and answer this important question in a three-part article series. In a new Insight whitepaper for service providers, “Discovering Your Data Center Services Suite” the data center is described by various sources as “a centralized repository,” “physical or virtual infrastructure,” “a facility” and a “department in an enterprise.”

Of course, all of these definitions are correct, although none of them are complete. It may, in fact, be safer to say that the most critical defining factor of the data center function is the IT service provider who supports it.

It will be critical to collaborate with skilled service providers as big data exponentiates in the ever-changing, knowledge-based economy. After all, service providers are the individuals behind the innovation in data center technology. Yesterday’s smart technologists discovered they could better serve their clients by operating off their own data centers, thus creating “the cloud.”

The IT service provider who stays afloat in today’s knowledge-based economy will be flexible, and position themselves to offer key services wrapped around changing demands. As the chart below suggests, big data gets a chunk of revenue share in professional services across every area that it touches.

Share of total global big data revenue by segment in 2014 bar graph

Enabling a data center requires a wide variety of skills, especially if it touches design and construction, to enablement and ongoing management.

Are traditional data center design and management experience under your belt?

For those companies building a data center, there are many construction trades that must be carefully considered, including carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical contracting, heating and air conditioning, cable plant development, fire protection, premises security and more. If your client isn’t prepared to manage all of these trades, they may seek you to act on their behalf as an “owner’s representative.” If you have these skills, you have the opportunity to take on substantial data center design and management projects in the construction industry.

Data Center Energy Practitioners (DCEPs) are needed.

Data center systems consume all utilities — from telephone and network services involving high-speed data transfer, electrical power with backup, to halon fire retardant and more. A report from Northbridge Energy Partners found that worldwide, data center energy use makes up 3% of all electricity consumed, a number that will keep increasing for many years.

If you have experience managing data center performance and optimization, you could serve a range of businesses — from property management companies and engineering consulting firms, to state energy agencies and utilities. Executive Order 13693, "Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade," says all major data centers must have an assigned DCEP.

Data center networking experts will continue to be necessary.

Many think that this is all there is to data center services. Obviously, it’s at the core of the functionality, and it requires skills across all disciplines from servers and storage, to switching and routing, security and all that it entails, as well as the physical, data-link, network services, transport, session, presentation and application layers of the classic International Organization for Standardization (ISO) / Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) seven-layer model.

“Even in a software-defined era, ‘there's still an opportunity for hardware innovation’ when it comes to networking,” IT consultant Jim O'Reilly said in this TechTarget article about 2016 data center predictions. The article noted the influence of hardware advances with solid-state disk replace hard disk drives and the importance for data center networking experts to stay relevant, gaining more experience with software and API systems.

You can support data center locations.

Many data center operators provide “hot, warm and cold site” facilities for personnel to come work in during the aftermath of local disaster. Hot sites provide the most assistance and allow mission critical operations to move immediately over in the event of a disaster. Warm sites allow businesses to act preventatively by pre-installing hardware and preconfiguring bandwidth needs, providing a familiar setting in the event of a data center emergency. And a cold site offers the space and functionality an organization might need without the pre-configured settings. The service provider can also position themselves to help with the heavy lifting in this scenario. Designing, equipping, and stocking these facilities with necessary supplies, furniture and equipment is a project unto itself. Based on a MarketsandMarkets forecast (as pictured), Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) is projected to grow from 272.7 million in U.S. dollars from 2015 to $2,172.3 billion in 2020.

Size of DRaaS clould service provider market 2013 -2020 bar graph

It used to be that the data center was the “core” of the network, and the user’s client devices were at the “edge.” Today, with many hyperconverged and composable cloud services available to expand and extend the data center’s capacities, no data center stands alone. Expertise at configuring contiguous compute space requires Active Directory and other similar skills.

"The people involved need to gain new skills," said Clive Longbottom of analyst firm Quocirca in the TechTarget article. "They need to learn APIs [and] virtualization management systems. Every company comes up with its own API -- they need to talk across back-end systems."

When you look at data center as a function, you may provide part of the solution, various parts of the solution, or you may even be the solution. Customers have greater and greater choices in data center solutions between private cloud services, public cloud, hosting, co-location and hybrids of all of the above, particularly to achieve better co-location pricing. This requires you to consider your philosophy and approach to supporting the data center function. Do you want to be as flexible and accommodating as possible, or do you want to furnish a well-defined consistent solution?

The questions to consider and due diligence required are not simple, but the answers will define your opportunity for data center success.

As server and storage infrastructure integration services continue to move away from IT service providers and toward giants like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, IBM Softlayer and others, more network integration service providers are focusing their attention on customers who require help designing, developing, deploying and managing their own data centers.

Insight’s whitepaper, “Discovering Your Data Center Service Suite,” covers the first of four steps in the data center services journey from discovery and planning, to optimization and ongoing management of data centers.