The English have a fondness for mustard. Not the brownish stuff that they eat in France, nor the green condiment that no respectable sushi would be seen without. Not even the slightly sweet stuff without which no American hotdog is complete. The English palette is for yellow mustard which is eye-wateringly hot. Mustard which can clear your sinuses, tear ducts and probably the wax from your ears with a single taste. It used to be said of its most famed maker – Colmans – that the company had made its fortune from what got left on the plate. People always took more than they were going to eat.
And that, in a nutshell, has been one of the challenges when specifying colocation services. Because of the nature of contracts and the difficulty of predicting future capacity requirements, managers have tended to over-estimate. Oversize, or provide over capacity; it’s something we do throughout the data center industry. Behaviour which is perhaps driven by fear of the unknown. Maybe. Let’s face it, people do exactly the same thing when building their own data centers.
But here’s the elephant in the room, as a result of these insecurities customers don’t tend to trust colos. They think, for example, that they get charged for power or space which they don’t use. Ah, says the colo, but you want us to reserve that resource exclusively for you, so it’s available as your needs grow. But, says the customer, in the meantime I’m worried that you’re selling that same allocation to someone else. And by the way, experience suggests that our infrastructure needs from you will never grow to the capacity for which we’ve contracted.
Not so very long ago, at Schneider Electric we did what researchers call a little qualitative analysis; individual interviews with a number of data center professionals representative of various decision influencers. This included CTO’s, CFO’s and CIO’s working for colocation companies and their customers, as well as data center managers and sys admins working on both sides of the fence.
The study was quite illuminating, revealing that in many respects, both customers and their collocation partners could not only benefit from data center software, but that they were keen to do so. And not just from an informational point of view, but because there is the opportunity to use a standard language to communicate with one another.
The majority of colos interviewed, especially those that provide wholesale services, focus predominantly on providing secure space, power, and cooling to their tenants while maintaining availability as defined by the SLAs. Margins are very healthy, but the most progressive of them are looking for new ways to lower costs by improving operational and power efficiencies. At the same time, they want constant cage, rack and server monitoring so ensure optimal capacity, together with asset management plus inventory upgrade alerts, and reporting tools.
With the evolution of IT systems, a small subset of the colos are starting to break down barriers by providing managed services and IT infrastructure consultancy to their customers. The next generation colo will have a customer-driven business strategy with the flexibility to provide a range of physical IT infrastructure services. The hallmarks of such colos will be a shifted focus from selling space to selling services, customized products, and consultancy.
Customers also want to optimize and simplify: They still want to manage their IT services with maximum availability, efficiency and scalability, but they also want features such as remote monitoring so that capacity and performance can be optimised. We also identified the scope for a change management system which includes hands-on support to get tasks carried out, as well as scenario planning and a reporting tool to prove ROI and value for money.
DCIM solutions can help in the majority of these of requirements, meeting the aims and objectives of both sets of stakeholders. There could be issues around disclosure; for example colos may not want to reveal true power consumption as it may affect revenues, customers may not want to enable colos to measure power all the way down to individual servers. However, what is clear is that the transparency which could lead from DCIM implementation would go a long way to forging a relationship of trust between colo and tenant.