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…

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

Do you really want to give up your freedom?

It continues to amaze me that people choose to house their servers in data centers owned by telecom operators.

Carrier-neutral data centers allow a great deal more freedom of movement.

Network-neutral data centers offer meet-me rooms, where you can have redundant connections to a number of different operators.

 

Every type of connection is possible. And if, say, one network provider suffers a malfunction, you can fall back on your connection to another network provider that is unaffected.

As an independent (i.e. carrier-neutral, cloud-neutral and system integrator-neutral) data center, LCL is connected to more than 30 carriers, using MPLS, IP VPN, internet backbone (IP Transit), dark fiber, BNIX, Voice over IP or video connectivity services.

A fiber cut recently occurred in Zaventem when a contractor accidentally drilled through some glass fiber cables. A number of network operators experienced problems as a result. Customers that had double connections at our data centers, however, remained up and running.

Furthermore, competition between telecom providers has pushed prices down. A carrier that owns a data center may, however, make it difficult to switch provider when a competitor cuts prices. This is referred to as vendor lock-in.

Competition encourages providers to set themselves apart as carriers and offer the best levels of service and availability. With a network-neutral data carrier, you can benefit from this because you can switch network provider at any time without having to move your servers. You are also the first to benefit from new offers from carriers.

Moreover, a carrier neutral data center allows you to connect directly to the cloud provider of your choice, whether public or private. This means you can choose between different cloud providers right from the start and can switch flexibly between different cloud environments.

Why would you deliberately decide to limit your freedom at a time when freedom is so important? Perhaps the time has come to rethink your data center strategy. A data center migration is a once-only investment that is certain to pay off in the long term.

 

Laurens van Reijen, Managing Director at LCL

A data center day?

A couple of days ago, a fiber line was damaged in Zaventem, near Brussels.

The damage was near one of our data centers. It had nothing at all to do with us, we weren’t infected.

But when the news broke, the press still called us.

 

Talking to my colleagues of other data centers worldwide, in the European Data Center Association, it seems this is the case everywhere.

We have three data centers, on different sides of the biggest Belgian cities. We invest millions constantly upgrading our infrastructure, technology, security, and other facilities. We have 39 operators offering connections in our data centers. Every fiber connection comes into our buildings by two entries, and we even have two meet-me-rooms, to make sure every potential problem in the data center is catered for.

Why is it that no one is ever surprised that we’re ‘up’ all the time, but that, when a carrier has a problem – independently from us – it’s the data center that gets the bad coverage?

We provide the infrastructure of the digital economy. If we, data centers, were to go on strike, web shops and companies worldwide would come to a standstill. No internet connections, no clouds provided, no hosting without us.

I suggest we install a national day of the data center. A day on which we celebrate that data centers are serving their customers around the clock. With not so much as a split second of any failure whatsoever, months and years on end…

Can we have some positivity and recognition, please?

Laurens van Reijen, Managing Director at LCL

Guest Blog – What it’s like to work at LCL: Matthias Borremans, Facilities Project Manager

Ecological cooling systems

Matthias Borremans is LCL’s Facilities Project Manager.

He joined the company nearly a year ago. What exactly does his job entail? And which projects does he oversee?

Matthias tells all in this guest blog.

“As the Facilities Project Manager, I am responsible for overseeing various projects at LCL. One part of my work involves advising management when technologies or topologies need to be selected.

As a data center, we have to take a great many matters into consideration, and it is impossible to study everything, or design every element, without bringing in outside assistance. I therefore work with a number of engineering consulting firms that focus on different aspects of the data center.

One of the major projects on which I am currently working concerns the preparations for the construction of a new data center in Aalst. LCL already has a branch in Aalst, and it is building a second, 1200 m² data room behind its existing site. A data center cannot simply be thrown together. A study needs to be performed first, which can take up to 18 months. I check the study and monitor the implementation and delivery of the project. I always seek out the best technology and like to think outside the box. And as data centers are extremely energy-intensive, I like to come up with new ideas to help us be as environmentally friendly as possible.

For example, I considered the various cooling options for the new data center. One way to keep cooling generators cool is to spray water on them, in a process referred to as adiabatic cooling. This uses drinking water, however, which evaporates once it has been sprayed. We discussed the ethics of this within LCL, and asked ourselves whether it is acceptable to use drinking water for cooling and simply allow it to evaporate. A system of this kind does not consume a great deal of energy, is compact and can be fully redundant, but we decided it was not an environmentally responsible choice, and so we looked for an alternative solution. In the end, we opted for a system that can collect rainwater to cool down the dry coolers in hot weather.

In addition, the temperature range of the cooling water in the data center in Aalst will not be as low as in traditional systems. The cooling water will be cooled by the air outside when the outdoor temperature is lower than the temperature indoors (this is the case most of the year in Belgium), which means there will be no need to use cooling equipment. To ensure we can use this free cooling for as long as possible, we have selected the largest possible dry coolers, which will make it easier to remove heat. Using free cooling will allow us to achieve substantial energy savings.

The cooling system in the new data center in Aalst will be dual redundant (2N redundancy). This means there will be two backup cooling systems. As we want to maximize the space in the new data room, the cooling generators have been placed on the roof. To assist us with this, we called on the services of a stability engineer.

The construction project in Aalst is scheduled for completion at the end of 2018.”

Matthias Borremans, Facilities Project Manager at LCL