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The right questions to ask about data center locations

Data center relocation brings up a lot of questions. Here's how to determine the best locations for proprietary operations or colocation.

With large businesses looking to upgrade their data centers to meet modern computing needs, or build out in a colocation facility, the first question should be: Where? That is, what are the best data center locations?

Many businesses would say to build the new data center right where the old one stands. This is the easiest data center location to choose, but could be the one with the biggest problems. The business won't be able to operate the old data center during the build, unless there is sufficient spare ground for the new facility.

So, let's consider data center relocation. There are energy concerns. In larger countries, businesses and colocation providers can construct a data center facility close to electricity generating plants, lowering the cost of energy. In the U.S., for example, building close to hydro-electric generation on a major river or close to a wind farm on the open plains may lead to a better deal on the energy used.

Relocating the data center to a country with inherently low energy prices -- Iceland benefits from geothermal power generation, Norway from hydroelectricity, countries in the Middle East are rich in oil -- could pay off.

But cheap electricity isn't the only consideration. Energy prices in India, for example, are relatively low, as are labor costs. This would seem to make India an ideal data center location. However, the energy supply is not secure, and cheap electricity is useless when it fails regularly. Running backup auxiliary generators will wipe out any energy savings.

Climatic issues need to be taken into account. High outside temperatures will increase your indoor forced-cooling load, pushing up energy costs. Free air or other low- or no-cost cooling approaches are more cost effective. Abnormally high or low humidity also necessitate additional air treatment.

Data center relocation also brings up the issue of security. The facility is likely to be staffed by locals. Can you trust them? Standard background checks that establish trustworthiness in the U.S. or the U.K. will not be as useful in, say, Azerbaijan or Saudi Arabia. In areas with low labor costs, criminals may offer your employees much more than a year's wages to steal personal identifiable information from the data center.

Data center location also comes down to political stability. Few would consider building a new global data center in, say, Iraq or Afghanistan, yet there are plenty of other countries where the political situation is almost as unstable. With the less-trusted regimes, there is the possibility of state-sponsored attacks. Cyberspying and intellectual property theft are not the sole domain of the independent hacker or even organized crime rings. Although the Internet makes data center location less important for incoming attacks, avoid opening yourself up to state-sponsored data attacks.

The data center must abide by the hosting country's laws, and a change of government will affect laws. Some laws expose the data in your data center to authorities. This is happening even with traditionally trusted, stable nations; the U.S. Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act are making a lot of European organizations nervous about using U.S.-located and U.S.-owned data facilities.

Facility poll

Quocirca research, sponsored by Oracle, shows that only 6.5% of large Europe businesses feel that their existing data centers will meet their needs for the next five years or more. Over 60% state that they will need to replace or upgrade their facilities within the next two years.

Finally, consider connectivity and performance. Even in developed countries, some major areas still struggle with connectivity -- bandwidth, as well as a mix of Internet service providers required for redundancy. Latency also can be an issue -- a data center far from its users will have higher network latency than one located nearby. A low-bandwidth, high-latency link that is often offline will force users to come up with their own workarounds, ushering in shadow IT that is out of the IT department's control.

Taking into account all these factors, that original idea to build right atop of the old data center seems like the least risky relocation option. It could be far easier to divorce the facility from the IT equipment, and look to colocation. Here, the energy for the facility is not directly your problem. If you are profligate in provisioning your IT equipment, it will cost more, but once you have made the decision to colocate, energy costs belong to the facility owner, not you.

Major colocation providers, such as Equinix, Savvis and Telecity provide centers around the globe. They all have to consider the issues outlined above. An alternative approach is being taken by Calligo, which operates a facility out of Jersey, in the Channel Islands between the U.K. and France. Calligo enjoys lots of connectivity from multiple providers. It also benefits from operating outside of major jurisdictions: Jersey is self-governingoutside of the European Union under a "special partner" arrangement. Calligo management feels that this mitigates quite a few of the issues around data center locations, with the exception of latency. Here, Calligo is investigating other self-governing locations with a strong legal framework and a history of secure data management as a means of broadening its footprint and reducing latency.

For businesses investigating a new data center or colocation, examine thewhere question far more deeply than you expected to, but also focus on thewhy questions. For many, colocation will be a much better answer than a proprietary facility.

About the author:  Clive Longbottom is the co-founder and service director of IT research and analysis firm Quocirca, based in the U.K. Longbottom has more than 15 years of experience in the field. With a background in chemical engineering, he's worked on automation, control of hazardous substances, document management and knowledge management projects.

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