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Rethinking Colo in the Era of COVID: Challenges and Opportunities

COVID-19 has indisputably changed the world as we know it; technology companies and the infrastructure that supports them are not immune.

According to The Verge, Zoom had 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019. By the end of April 2020, that number had grown exponentially to more than 300 million daily participants. Netflix added 15.77 million paid subscribers in Q1, well over its quarterly estimate of seven million, which the company attributes to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, according to Variety. Data Economy reports that Microsoft’s collaborate solution, Microsoft Teams, saw an increase of 12 million users in just seven days.

This rapid and wholly unexpected dramatic increase left enterprises, as well as technology and software providers, scrambling for ways to support demand quickly, reliably, and securely in a flexible, scalable way. And all of this must be done in a way that abides by the world’s new working rules of severely restricted travel and personal contact. This is where colocation moved to the forefront. Companies that had never considered colo now look at it as a solid solution, providing their customers and employees with rapid access to data. Companies already implementing a colocation strategy doubled down.

Colocation has long enabled enterprises to scale quickly as needed and house their data closer to end-users. Its potential, however, has never been more critical than now, in the era of COVID-19. With the start of widespread safety measures in the United States a solid four months behind us, the initial set of challenges and opportunities has presented itself; many colocation providers have quickly adjusted to fulfill those needs.

Totally Hands Off for Clients

Outlets, from grocery stores to restaurant take-out, have developed curbside pickup options allowing consumers to buy things in a “contactless” manner. That same principle applies to colocation. Services like Remote Hands/Smart Hands and predefined installations across data center facilities have become not only a major opportunity for providers but a must-have for their clients.

In a COVID-19 world, the process of installing new environments and maintaining existing deployments must be hands-free and easily consumable.  Once equipment is shipped with a Scope of Work (SOW), containing accurate, relevant detailed information such as rack elevation, cable schedules, and scripts, colocation operations personnel should easily be able to provide and deliver a high-quality full turnkey solution to the customer, with pictures outlining the full installation for customers to approve or modify.

While large deployments may return to the pre-COVID normal of having clients’ engineers on-site, the desire for extensive remote hands services and “touchless” solutions may remain. (This also extends to the emergence of virtual data center tours for teams who can’t easily make an in-person site visit.)

Doubling Down on Cloud

The disruption caused by COVID-19 has further cemented cloud solutions’ place as a leading choice for many enterprises. However, it has also accelerated the deployment of cloud and colocation hybrid approaches for organizations that cannot move to cloud-only strategies (be it for budget, security, application limitations, or many additional reasons). In these situations, it's often easier for companies to maintain a hybrid cloud solution, combining physical data center presence with cloud usage.

Companies using cloud and colo need the ability to easily utilize cloud resources via connectivity solutions. This creates a unique ecosystem where colocation providers can help customers build via the rich, carrier-dense ecosystem, enabling L2PTP network connectivity into the colo cloud edge node, using custom point-to-point cut-to-length OS2 fiber cables cross-connects. Colocation providers that do not facilitate this growing hybrid environment approach will find themselves falling behind.

Easy Expansion

Clearly, companies are now acutely aware that they may need to scale extremely quickly and without warning, meaning that a singular focus on dedicated brick-and-mortar data centers in various locations isn’t necessarily the right approach. Colocation enables companies to quickly achieve broad coverage with predefined installations allowing for the ability of a seamless simultaneous multi-site deployment. To properly take advantage of this COVID-driven shift, colocation providers must adopt a “copy and paste” approach to new installations and mirroring environments at different facilities on an as-needed basis. Additionally, allowing customers the flexibility required to adjust and adapt to the new geo-environments.

Establishing a single cabinet at the network edge is an easy first step for enterprises to expand their data center footprint and ensure a good end-user experience. Making that process as repeatable as possible will ensure quick deployments, making the process simpler for data center technicians and engineers.

The Future

In the near term, COVID-19 has impacted colocation data centers, primarily through the lockdown of facilities to visitors and moving teams to a more hyper-controlled environment. The longer-lasting implication, however, is that organizations of every size are now realizing the benefits colocation offers across a variety of implementations. These new opportunities are promising for the industry but mean that supporting infrastructures and procedures must evolve with them. Companies that are flexible and forward-thinking enough to embrace the potential will be winners in the long run.