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Data center location
and requirements

Author: Gary Hilson

Data center location considerations are just as critical as any other real estate considerations for businesses—including office space.

The shift to the cloud has influenced data center location requirements, while digital transformation, a shift to remote work due to the pandemic, and the roll-out of 5G connectivity make data center location considerations even more dynamic, as companies value a data center's distance from end users. Data center location requirements must factor in where data is being used and how the business can effectively take advantage of edge computing and the available 5G connectivity.

Say goodbye to a single, central data center

Exactly where are most data centers located? Traditionally, data centers are close to the company's headquarters and focused on its needs. However, that distance isn't the only consideration for deciding where exactly to locate your data center. Chief among modern location considerations for data centers are:

  • Proximity to your company's IT staff. Your IT team will likely need to monitor your data center, or—if you are working with a third party managed services provider—meet with them in person.
  • Safety from natural disasters. Companies may look to avoid some of the country's hotbeds for earthquakes, tornadoes and other disasters while selecting a location.
  • The cost of real estate. This cost varies from one area to another and also across state lines.
  • The cost of electricity. Like real estate, the cost of the power needed to run your data center also varies in different areas and across state lines.
  • Proximity to a source of power. The closer your data center is to a source of power, the safer it is from transmission hazards.
  • The quality of network providers in the area. You'll want to consider what network solution a provider can offer for your data center and choose one with great reliability and speed.
  • Distance to end users. To avoid latency, you may examine where your company's end users are located (this may have undergone some recent shuffling due to a shift to remote work) and factor that into their decision process.

The advent of the cloud has also influenced data center location considerations, especially as businesses started offloading their operations to a managed services provider or migrating some workloads to public cloud platforms. Even large multinationals have shifted their data center location requirements in that they no longer need to own the real estate. Designing and building a data center from scratch is time-consuming and expensive, as is the daily management and the inevitable upgrade; to this point, data center location considerations may have changed significantly given the velocity of technology advancements in the cloud.

Without constant evolution, a data center's network performance may struggle to keep up with the demands of application requirements, performance expectations and user expectations. Traditional data centers may also not provide strong foundations for organizations that embrace digital transformation, remote work, and Internet of Things (IoT) deployments, resulting in some of these organizations taking a new approach.

Distributed users drive today's data center location considerations

What hasn't changed is that your data center location should reflect the nature of how business is conducted today, as well as how employees and customers access data, which is anywhere. Your data center location requirements should reflect the idea that applications, data and users are more distributed than ever. This means that users are maybe best served by multiple edge data centers.

Like a number of computing trends, data center location considerations must value agility and flexibility at the design level by incorporating concepts such as data processing units such as smart interface network cards (SmartNICs) that enable efficiency and agility through software-defined processes and spine-leaf designs for physical networking. Another of the most critical data center location requirements might be scalability, and the blueprint for edge data centers may reflect this need. Other key requirements include low latency, improved power and efficiency, programmability, and automation.

There are many kinds of edge data centers because there are many different types of applications and services that may be supported. Some may only provide data processing and storage at the edge, while others may also support larger-scale cloud services. Edge data centers are often used to support IoT deployments, connecting devices that require reliable and low-latency connectivity. Some of them might be part of a smart city, working in collaboration with edge data centers that support autonomous vehicles with traffic and weather information based on real-time monitoring.

Another element of a smart city is a move to more sustainable energy, and edge data centers support smart grids by enabling advanced real-time monitoring and analytics capabilities that provide utilities with actionable and valuable insights on distributed energy infrastructure. Oil and gas infrastructure could also benefit from IoT devices connected to an edge data center for real-time safety monitoring.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous use of edge data centers is to deliver streaming content. By storing movies, music, and other digital content in a distributed fashion, users can access content without any visible delay because they are closer to the source. These and many other use cases play a critical role in defining data center location requirements.

Your data center location requirements must include redundancy and connectivity

One of the long-standing data center location considerations is data redundancy and availability. Whether it's performing edge processing only or large-scale cloud computing, there's always a risk that a natural disaster, cyber attack or unexpected equipment failure could lead to services not being available for customers. Being able to route traffic to a "hot site" or using redundancy to minimize disruption is critical, so your data center location considerations should include the use of colocation and managed service providers to ensure business continuity in case of a disaster.

The density of a market might also be one of your key data center location requirements. If there are more people in each region, there's likely a higher potential for more technology services—this allows for more cost-effective scaling of your data center because you can justify the initial setup and expansion.

Connectivity is the most critical of all data center location considerations because you must be able to reliably connect with users who are consuming applications and services, whether it's for large-scale computing or IoT edge applications. Just as redundancy is critical for your data center, so is your connectivity. You need access to enough bandwidth to meet performance, latency and capacity requirements. Be sure to assess the available telecommunications infrastructure, its reputation for reliability, as well as the plans for keeping up with growth in the region.

Most of all, today's data center location requirements should consider employing a multi-access edge computing (MEC) approach to bring applications, data, services, and content closer to where the user needs it. Rather than establishing a single data center that's distant from many locations it supports, MEC allows for data processing and application delivery at the edge which can help dramatically reduce latency while leveraging 5G connectivity that's rapidly being deployed in major centers worldwide.

Remember, your data center location considerations are ultimately about delivering tangible business benefits. Embracing MEC with 5G connectivity can help lower latency and provide localized data access to expand capabilities for your business and services to your customers.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.