Will there be sufficient people to run our digital lives?

blog januari

We’re evolving towards a digital world. Erm, no. Let me start over. We live in a digital world. And things around us will only become more digital. Our smartphones are more and more becoming the center of our lives. We make phone calls, send txt messages, FB, watch movies, buy stuff, book holidays, taxi rides and hotel rooms. We manage our finances, track and share our sports activities, we navigate to any location, we leave a trail of where we were … all with one device.

Whether we realise it or not, this device that fits nicely in our hands is backed by an immense, ever-expanding network of applications, servers, connections and infrastructure. Things that need to be continuously developed and maintained. To do that, requires people. And that’s where we have a problem in Belgium. Our workforce isn’t growing fast enough and isn’t retrained fast enough. We still have people sitting in un employment. Unless we take action now and activate our workforce at an increased rate, we won’t be able to keep up with the digital pace. I guess however, Belgium’s not the only country struggling to fill all job openings.

According to Agoria (the umbrella organisation of all Belgian technology-based companies), more jobs are appearing than disappearing (+0,9% per year) while the workforce is growing only slowly (+0,3% per year). On top of this, digitalisation is changing the content of every job; for some limited, for others quite radical. Unless we take action, digitalisation and economic dynamics will result in more than half a million unfilled posts by 2030, in Belgium alone.

Expert jobs require expert people. Keep people within their focus, they’ll perform better and will be more engaged. People sometimes assume that data center housing is an IT job. It’s not, it’s an engineer’s. Data center construction and maintenance require expert knowledge on electrical power and circuitry, engines/generators, cooling and heating, architecture, security, energy efficiency… So why would you want to train an IT person to do an engineer’s job? It’s a completely different skill set. Anyway, you could use that IT person to focus on IT projects. That’s what you hired her/him for in the first place.

And why would you want to do it yourself inhouse. Besides the skill set, a data center that has an uptime of over 99,9%, requires a state-of-the-art infrastructure which by itself is a huge investment. We already made that investment, so why not outsource yours and benefit from the economies of scale? That way, you can also save on office space, which you will need for your future staff.

Be The Change – Shaping the Future of Work is a campaign by Agoria. Would you like to find out how our workforce – and you – will be impacted by the digitalisation of our lives; will you be the change? Then visit the Be The Change landing page.

Laurens van Reijen

Managing Director, LCL Data Centers

Your privacy in times of data breaches

 

In this blog I want to discuss a remarkable video that I recently watched on LinkedIn (‘Amazing mind reader reveals his ‘gift’’). It’s a video from Febelfin, the Belgian federation of the financial sector, to promote safe internet banking. We see a mind reader who traces back all sorts of personal information of random people just by reading their minds: tattoos, the colour of their house, medical information, details of their love life… He even ‘reads’ their bank account number and how much they spent on clothes over the last month! Of course all these people are genuinely surprised. At the end of the video one discovers how exactly he knew these personal details about the participants… I suggest you go and discover it yourself first.

I thought this video was quite shocking. You as well? Without knowing it, people are throwing away all kinds of private information about themselves online. Hackers can uncover your private life and can even trace your bank account number. Most people however do not seem to lose sleep over what happens with their online data. We share details about our life without thinking about the consequences, or where all this data is stored or what it is used for. People are kind of naive when it comes to online privacy. A few multinationals, like Facebook and Google, are using our online traces for their own good. In addition, news about data breaches is everywhere. The most recent incidents reported are from Dell and Marriott, in the latter case over 0.5 billion people are impacted. Their private information has gone public. The list of data breaches is endless.

Jaak Geens, founder of the NPO Geens.com, and his team developed a platform to let users take back control (individuals, governments or businesses) over their data. The purpose of this platform is to secure privacy and personal data online. The technology is based on encryption and blockchain, making your personal data private and allowing you to share it only with the ones you want to share it with. It’s basically a vault. Because you know, the cloud (where all our social media information for example is going to), is not a synonym for private. Geens not only covers the individual. Privacy by design is their credo for businesses. When organisations develop new software, it’s good to already keep the privacy aspect in mind from the initial development.

The analogy between this ‘geens’-vault for your data and our data centers as a vault for your servers is an obvious one. In times of cybercrime and data breaches, not only your data should be stored safely, your servers containing the data should be placed somewhere safe and secured as well. While our world is becoming more and more digital, more and more data will be shared and transferred, digital infrastructures will only expand. Yours too. Think through thoroughly where you want to place your digital infrastructure and processes. You do want to keep full control, don’t you?

So it’s good to be thoughtful about your data and to keep everything under your own control. Losing data or the connection to it, imposes a high financial and competitive risk. Data protection in these times of data breaches is the best investment you can make.

Data center vs. Cloud – The best of both worlds

Gartner, world’s leading research and advisory company, predicts that 80% of enterprises will have shut down their traditional on-premise data center by 2025. Companies’ IT requirements are evolving, because business and customer needs are changing. New technologies like the Internet of Things or edge services are pushing companies away from their data center. Furthermore, businesses are developing IT strategies that focus on their application portfolio, rather than on their physical infrastructure. Also, the customer experience is getting more attention. All this makes organizations reconsider where their applications and equipment should be housed, based on network latency, customer population clusters and geopolitical limitations.

You will probably think that this prediction is music to our ears. Partly it is of course, because when enterprises close down their own data center, they usually choose one of two options: migrating their data into the cloud or moving their servers to a professional data center. However, these days there is a ‘cloud first’-hype. Some companies decide to go with one of the large cloud players like Microsoft, Amazon, Google or Oracle. But at LCL, you can get the best of both worlds as we provide easy access to multiple cloud providers. Our cloud neutrality allows you to connect directly to one of our partners. By which we mean Belgian cloud providers who house their clouds at our data centers like for example Arcadiz, Arxus (Cronos Group), Cheops, Combell, Fujitsu, Nucleus, Proact, RealDolmen, Savaco or Sentia.

Another option is of course to skip the cloud and to store your data directly at the servers in a professional data center. Your own data center requires a lot of maintenance, but this service is included at external data centers like LCL. Our trained staff has the right skills and knowledge to take care of all our critical infrastructure 24/7, making sure your equipment keeps running without interruption. Power cuts, lightning strikes, fires, insufficient cooling, security breaches, … these are the things you don’t need to worry about. We take care of that, while you can focus on your core business. And let’s not forget the other services which are included at LCL: redundancy and security. Also, our carrier neutrality gives you the flexibility to easily switch between different operators.

IT infrastructure is getting more complex every day, so companies are looking for external service partners to help. Maybe you are as well? We offer you business continuity, crucial in today’s business world. And on top of that you can replicate all your critical data to one of our other data centers. If I were you, I would rethink my IT strategy sometime soon…

Data centers trying to beat the heat

After six weeks of sunshine and high temperatures, I reflected on how well the cooling installations in our data centers were performing and the fact that so far we hadn’t encountered any problem this summer. The very next day, however, one of our air conditioning units indicated it suffered badly under the extreme conditions of the persisting heat. Fortunately, we designed our systems to be fully redundant, and our team, which was on the scene immediately, kept their cool and did an excellent job in resolving the incident.

In the past, things were different. When we first opened our data center, over 15 years ago, we faced problems as soon as the weather turned hot. This was often the result of inadequate maintenance, such as when the cooling generators on the roof became clogged up with pollen. Since that incident, we have carried out additional maintenance work every spring to remove the pollen. On very hot days we had to contend with failing systems, and this was particularly problematic when a second site was affected too. While this was very frustrating, it taught us that we needed to address the issue of cooling differently.

Practice makes perfect, so when we made new investments we took into account the fact that roofs become particularly hot in the summer, for example – thus generating more heat inside of the data centers. Our new data centers were therefore designed with extra large cooling generators on their roofs to ensure they can deal with high temperatures.

Given the heatwave currently hitting our country – the second already this summer –, we are very glad that we took those decisions. We will have to take even higher temperatures into consideration if global warming continues. If climate change creates additional problems in the future, the design of data centers will have to be fully adapted to cope with that phenomenon.

In Uptime Institute’s annual global data center survey (2018) of almost 900 data center operators and IT practitioners, 46% of respondents said that their organizations were not addressing potential climate change disruption to their data centers. The advice is to conduct disaster and emergency planning in the context of a broader emergency and business continuity plan. At LCL, we take the Tier design criteria into account in order to increase operational efficiency and improve the reliability of our business critical infrastructure. We also test our backup systems once a month by simulating a power outage. Floods may not occur often in Belgium, but (heat) thunderstorms do take place once in a while… We at LCL, are prepared for the rapidly changing climate conditions.

Laurens van Reijen

The shift towards the edge

LCL Data Center

The data center world is evolving as the amount of data in the world is constantly increasing. New technologies like the Internet of Things, blockchain, 5G, Artificial Intelligence require a different approach. These technologies require rapid response and real time analysis. Extra data processing and storage capacity is thus needed very close to the source of the data. That’s what edge computing is about: storing, processing and analysing data as close as possible to the point where it is generated.

The shift towards the edge means a shift towards decentralised data centers. Data transfer to a centralised hyperscale cloud data center sometimes just takes up too much time. Pushing computation and analytical capabilities closer to the edge reduces traffic and can reduce round-trip delay in sending data for analysis to and from a centralised cloud platform. This results in better security, improved availability, more privacy and increased resiliency. Every city or region will need their own data center, so this will require a lot of extra data center space.

Edge processing can raise network speed, reduce latency and help with capacity issues. Failures or congestion in networks may cause serious problems for machines, devices or user experience. Think about Pokémon Go: people all over the world were walking around with their smartphones trying to catch ‘em all. Who would like it if the connection goes down at the exact moment they’re catching a rare Pokémon. The same goes for smart watches: the output is needed immediately, so there’s no time to send all the data to the cloud to be analysed.

Another example are autonomous cars. These self-driving vehicles will produce an enormous amount of data and will exchange information with each other. If one car detects a pothole in the road, it sends this information to the next car, which will adept the suspension at the exact location of the pothole. Processing data like this must happen within less than a microsecond or accidents will happen. That’s why the processing needs to happen very close to the point of usage. Availability is key here.

The data center world is evolving, but so is LCL. We are ready for the shift towards the edge. We’re connected in three cities in Belgium: Antwerp, Aalst and Brussels. Our data centers are scalable and flexible and have all the necessary components for security, cooling, energy … already in place. We’re striving for maximum availability and reliability.

Blockchain and data center: a happy marriage?

Blockchain is the new buzz. It’s designed to make transactions transparent and elimate the requirement of trust among individuals for simple transactions. Blockchain has a huge potential to create massive social change. And we ask ourselves, what role can we as a datacenter play in blockchain? Is it a happy marriage?

To be honest, we don’t know. Blockchain requires more powerful processors to handle transactions, which as a consequence requires much more electricity and does not render blockchain technology energy efficient. What we do know is that as a data center we strive to be as energy efficient as possible. At LCL, we don’t plan to start becoming less energy efficient, especially not after all the effort we’ve put in to achieve just the opposite.
Where we do see ourselves play a major role is in the connectivity. Since blockchain saves a copy of the entire transaction history on the computer of every user, it means that data needs to be exchanged constantly between all these copies, making sure the information is kept up to date. And where does all traffic need to pass through? Right, a data center. Particularly (at LCL) via the meet-me-room. Telecom operators will play a major role in Blockchain, as connections will be key. Data centers will become more and more a node of internet and other traffic. And as bandwidth is multiplied by 1.5 ever year without blockchain anyway, there will be a massive need for extra bandwidth when blockchain would become generally accepted. In this respect, we, LCL, see a bright future for data centers; especially given that at LCL we house up to 38 carriers in our three data centers. On top of the fact that everyone’s evolving towards data center outsourcing anyway, as the security (and other) requirements make it very inefficient and expensive to store your servers in your own data center or server room.

So, are data centers and blockchain a happy marriage?

Yes, definitely for data exchange. However, not when it comes down to energy efficiency. At least not until they’ve made blockchain more energy efficient, something I’ve read they’re looking into. And something we look forward to, because we surely don’t want to abandon our ISO 14001 certification.

Laurens van Reijen
Managing Director, LCL Data Centers

PS: The MIT Technology Review of MAY/JUNE 2018 has a full issue covering Blockchain, a must read for everyone interested.

What do YOU prefer: a ‘self-service’ cloud provider or rather a ‘services-included’ cloud provider?

It took some time to convince businesses to migrate to the cloud – and there is still a certain percentage that hasn’t done so. They didn’t quite trust their applications and data would be secure. But now that many companies – large and small – see the advantages of the cloud, we get the opposite problem: there is too much trust.

People subscribe to cloud services paying peanuts, yet not expecting monkeys

A couple of years ago now, we had a clear case showing the difference. A large data center was struck by lightning. As a consequence, the clients of the data centre saw the light. The data centre lost some client data. They pointed out to their clients that it was their own fault. It’s the clients’ responsibility to take the necessary precautions to secure their data, not the cloud provider’s role to handle this, so they said. So these clients started realising that a self-service cloud does not entirely mean services are included. Quite on the contrary. The media reported that the clients’ calls weren’t answered. Whether literally no one was there or rather that they hadn’t planned to provide any service at all and therefore wouldn’t answer the calls: the clients were left in the cold.

People really want to be cheated, don’t they?

Do you really think that paying for cloud space with a credit card and without any personal contact would get you the same service as when buying from a real person who has listened to your needs? I don’t think so.

When you purchase from a cloud provider you can actually call someone and discuss your specific needs. These cloud providers generally have custom features. And the fact that you can speak to someone, really means that you can get support, as opposed to the situation where there’s no one you can call so no one to listen to your needs and able to support you. There are plenty of service-included cloud providers around: Joos Hybrid, Nucleus, Proact, Sentia, Tobania, just to name the ones we house.

There are no miracles, sorry…

People’s salaries represent a certain cost. If you want to be able to talk to someone, get custom features and/or support, that involves a person and a salary, so you pay the price. If you buy cloud space cheaply, that just means no human time is included. Did you agree to a standard offering? Watch it when you want to change your order. That also implies service.

At LCL, we house a lot of companies, government organisations and systems integrators requiring cloud services. We hear a lot of stories about cloud offerings being non-transparent, non-scalable, and financially unpredictable once you step outside what you initially signed for. If you buy into a standard, cheap offer, and you want to scale up or down, you’re dependant on your supplier. And as there’s no one who knows you, there’s no one to discuss your Frankly? Probably no one really cares beyond the monthly turnover. Meaning: unless you fit into the standard flow and all goes well, it’s plug-and-pray time. With some bad luck, you’re screwed.

A data centre is an ecosystem

When you choose a real data centre, especially one with a customer intimacy-strategy such as LCL, you enter an ecosystem. You have access to all the cloud providers you can wish for, the anonymous ‘self-service’ ones as well as the ‘service-included’ ones. We’re there to advise and accompany you. We want to understand your needs and make sure you get the solution that’s right for you. Because that’s the only way to build valuable long-term partnerships. And as we know our clients, we care for them to stay!

Laurens