Data centers have become the largest target client sector for equipment manufacturers and components suppliers over the past ten years. Yet many of these vendors still do not understand that when it comes to data centers, none are the same. And, while there are large categories of data centers, within them there can be much variation in networking needs. In fact, some of the largest data centers network asset acquisition trends have changed drastically in this time period. For this first post in a series, we examine the large categories of data centers and what their data center interconnect (DCI) requirements are. In subsequent articles, we will discuss specific DCI equipment and present particular case studies for each data center type.

DCI Defined

While DCI seems like a general term for any type of connection used in or between data centers, it really is not. What the industry means when talking DCI is simple, a connection between data centers that are in geographically distant areas – or in other words, a metro or long-haul connection, but not inside the same building or even within the same campus. What type of connection this is and what equipment is used largely depends on the type of data centers being connected.

Data Center Categories Defined

When most people think of data centers, they picture the large warehouses or carrier hotels that have been advertised by the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Equinix and others. In reality, most data centers are much smaller than this. Before we break the data center market up into different categories, we need to understand exactly what a generic data center is. The broadly accepted meaning for data center is a “centralized repository for compute and storage resources.” In other words, it’s a room or building where servers, storage and networking elements reside.

GraphFigure 1:  Basic Data Center Topology (Source:  TIA 942 Data Center Standard)

Discerning Analytics, LLC (DA) classifies data centers into three distinct market categories:  enterprise (including SMBs), colocation and Internet data center (IDC)/Cloud/Content Provider. These are defined below:

  • Enterprise:  An enterprise data center is owned and operated by a particular company. It supports their business, but is not their primary business. There are tens of thousands of enterprise data centers in the world. Examples of enterprise data centers include Fidelity, VISA and Payless Shoes. Direct or contracted employees of these companies run these data centers that reside within their owned or leased building(s).
  • Colocation:  A colocation data center has enterprises or IDCs/cloud/content companies as their customers. Clients lease space and power from the colocation provider. Colocation facilities can be either retail or wholesale. Wholesalers lease larger spaces – usually no less the 10,000 square feet and as much as an entire building, while retailers lease smaller areas, sometimes as little as half a rack. Typically, the client buys, installs and maintains all of their equipment inside the colocation facility. However, over recent years, most colocation companies have become a hybrid of retail and wholesale along with some managed services like maintenance and upgrades. The largest retail colocation provider in the world is Equinix and the largest wholesaler is Digital Realty Trust. There are hundreds of colocation providers usually located in or near cities that have Internet Exchanges. In fact, some of the largest colocation facilities are built in the same buildings as the Internet Exchanges – Equinix at One Wilshire in Los Angeles and InfoMart’s facility in Dallas are two examples. There are also several colocation data center operators that are now seeing value to building edge data centers as well. Examples of these are Cologix and EdgeConnex.
  • IDC/Cloud/Content Provider:  Internet data centers, cloud data centers and content providers are those that base their businesses on the Internet. Without it, they would have no business. These include IDCs (also referred to as cloud providers) like Amazon, Google and Microsoft along with content (also referred to as over-the-top (OTT)) providers such as Netflix and Hulu. Other OTT companies like Skype and DropBox that don’t necessarily deliver content are also included in this category. These companies deliver services like telephone and video conferencing, and storage over the Internet.

DA has developed these categories largely because they tend to have different types of data center networks. IDCs are early adopters of technology and push towards next-generation equipment because their business depends on fast and reliable data transmission and transport. Enterprises tend to adopt proven technology and only upgrade when absolutely necessary, mainly because most of their data stays within the company – except those that sell on-line, but even they just need a reliable Internet connection and not state-of-the-art equipment. The data center for an IDC is considered essential to their business, while most enterprises still treat data centers as a cost center. Because colocation facilities’ clients are primarily enterprises, they follow the same type of technology adoption as those inside the data center, but when connecting their colocation data centers tend to be more like the IDCs.

A summary of the three categories of data centers and their associated DCI strategies is shown below: