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Life on the edge: The benefits of using micro datacentres

Enterprises are demanding faster access to applications and ever more processing power. Could edge datacentres fill the gap?

Just as CIOs were coming to terms with the idea of deciding how much of their IT to run in an enterprise-owned datacentre, a colocation facility or the public cloud, up pops yet another option – the edge datacentre.

There are two main types of edge datacentre. The first is a small facility used to serve secondary locations by a service or colocation provider, and the second is defined as a modularised site placed close to the edge of an organisation’s own, main network.

The likes of Equinix, Virtus and Interxion specialise in providing the first type from their multi-acre colocation facilities. Their aim is to provide space for their main customers, many of whom will be service providers, to have full datacentre capabilities within a facility owned and managed by a third party.

As an example of a use case for this set-up, consider the plight of a global media company which sets up its IT platform in colocation datacentres around the world to provide the best possible capacity, resilience and performance it can get.

This works quite well, until the addressable market for its services grows to include areas where access to superfast networks is limited.

To remedy this, why not build a smaller datacentre close to such locations that can use dedicated interconnects to the major datacentres and then dual-sell local bandwidth with content at the same time? This would enable the company to provide an effective service to a broader set of customers for a reasonable outlay.

This model can work for smaller colocation players too, as long as they are able to provide these services at a local level and work with the big guys as necessary. The likes of EdgeConnex and 365 Data Centers are both example of firms that fit this bill.

The content distribution networks (CDNs) of Akamai, CloudFlare, Limelight or CDNetworks, for example, can draw on these edge datacentres as points of presence, offload traffic from the main backhaul and provide much better performance to the cities involved. 

CloudFlare, in particular, uses the big guys for its main presence, but also leans on EdgeConnex to get it to smaller US cities where Equinix and the like do not have a direct presence.

Even in-country, an edge datacentre allows a provider to dip a toe in the water – rather than go in, all guns blazing, with a 10-acre facility and see how things go – and can be far more cost-effective.  

The case for modular datacentres

With many organisations operating across multiple geographies, each location may require access to core company data and systems. Historically, this was solved by putting all the systems into a single datacentre that was remotely accessed by everyone, or putting in place multiple different systems closer to each location. The downside is that this can lead to different data silos that are hard to reconcile.

In situations like this, edge datacentres based on modularised systems can come into their own. A well-engineered half- or full-container datacentre can be delivered to an organisation on the back of a lorry.

Colocation provider IO is an example of a company that has taken the concept to a logical extreme through its “datacentre-as-a-service” (DCaaS) proposition.

Read more about datacentre trends

IO’s own major datacentres are built from highly engineered modular systems. Therefore, a large datacentre can be built from a number of these smaller modules and, if it becomes necessary to expand further, the modules can easily be repurposed into an even bigger facility.

In fact, IO can offer a single module as an edge datacentre direct to a customer, should this be required, providing it with organisation-to-colocation provider connectivity and content acceleration that may otherwise be missing. 

Such a close-to-premise edge server may be a niche requirement, but it is one that some companies could find useful when it comes to resource bursting for on-premise workloads.

Edging out the requirements

Edge datacentres are not for everyone, however, even though they do provide an excellent solution for those with a presence in less well-served towns, cities, regions and countries where it is essential to provide access to corporate applications and content at speeds that meet the expectations of today’s users.

As such, enterprises should not write off the smaller datacentre players. Look at what they offer in the way of interconnects to the big colocation and public cloud guys, and make sure what they offer fits the bill. In most cases, you will not be considering them as a main colocation site, but may need them for extra reach. 

But before signing up, CIOs will need to ensure the provider’s plans for the future meet their own, in terms of expanding into new areas at a pace that matches the enterprise’s own growth. It is also worth checking that their service levels are high enough to support the business.

Do not underestimate the people factor either, because it is important to know that when (not if) something goes wrong, they will work effectively with the enterprise to identify the root cause, and not waste time pointing the finger at others.

Although the formal edge of an organisation’s network is fast disappearing, the use of edge datacentre services can make everyone, wherever they are in the world, feel as if they are working on the same systems, with the same performance and functionality as if they were sat at a desk in company HQ.

This was first published in February 2016

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