December 4, 2019

The managed edge: pairing managed services with edge computing for maximum operational benefits

Leveraging infrastructure at the edge

Before we dive into the age of the edge, let’s talk about infrastructure in the early 2000s: IT personnel traveled to a physical data center where on-site technicians would help set up. Maybe they loaned a switch and cables and asked about connectivity needs. In two or three weeks, your chosen data center provider would likely have helped you secure additional elements like IP space, and you’d have a few servers and a switch connected to the internet.

This worked well at the time—when IT infrastructure only needed to be in one place. But that’s not the case anymore. Today, the internet dominates daily life, the cloud is ubiquitous, platforms service global audiences, and the buyer of IT services has changed dramatically. The idea of going to a data center to rack a server is not desirable and depending on who you’re talking to, laughable. At the same time, infrastructure is deployed on a global basis, making it physically impossible to get “there.”

“We have 24 data centers worldwide and I’ve only been to three. There’s an invisible part of the internet where the ecosystem and infrastructure are in many places, managed programmatically so that you simply don’t need to go to the data center most of the time.”

-Zachary Smith, CEO & Cofounder, Packet

The reality is, the concept of IT specialists visiting a physical data center to “rack and stack” is an antiquated model for provisioning infrastructure. Today, modern enterprises leverage trusted partners who can deploy and manage far-flung IT resources. Customers don’t want a data center; they want access to infrastructure in diverse markets. Everything else is the muck of getting things up and running.

This is why DataBank is focused on providing services across diverse second-tier data center markets, making consumption easy. The experience we offer service providers and enterprises today is perfectly aligned with the push towards the network edge.

Here’s the problem with the current state of the market when it comes to the edge: there exists a dichotomy in which a large portion of edge customers either buy wholesale or rely on hyperscale vendors; the other half of edge customers need more infrastructure across a wide array of locations, but don’t fit well with wholesale providers who dominate the market with more limited service offerings. These types of vendors are difficult for more agile customers to work with because they don’t provide remote hands, rack and stack services or qualified technicians capable of troubleshooting.

Ultimately, the edge is about opinion, dependent upon individual factors for decision making: price, performance, proximity, and politics. Perhaps the main factor for decision making is proximity because latency matters and transport costs are high for a particular organization. Alternatively, decision making could be political; maybe a given company provides the platform which powers taxi commission, so their infrastructure should reside in New York City. No matter the incentives, versatility is the basis of the edge.

Operational headaches: racking, stacking, configuring, and fixing!

The second you’re running your environment in a data center (that’s not in your office basement), you’re going to have to decide how to deal with the challenges of racking and stacking, configuration and break-fix. First, the cost of shipping is incredibly expensive in certain markets, as is paying technicians hundreds of dollars per hour to unbox servers, rack them, cable, debug, and more; and that’s only day zero operations. When it comes to day two, you need a plan for break-fix, documentation, and spare equipment.

In the edge market, it’s common to come across “data center only” vendors who offer little to no services beyond power, space, and cooling. It’s a curious paradigm in the on-demand, the consumer-forward ecosystem in which businesses operate today. As a result, the data center world is consolidating into a few large providers. If real estate-focused data center vendors considered that a large portion of the market needs more help, and not less, the customer base would diversify, and colocation could function as a growth driver. Yet, this isn’t the path most vendors are taking. DataBank, however, is an exception. Recognizing the dichotomy among edge-focused customers, we’re committed to maintaining a colocation offering that’s high quality and comes with options for managed services: the managed edge.

“I almost never meet people who like going to a data center. If you’re an operator who doesn’t offer remote hands or managed services, you’re leaving your customers to fend for themselves; which is why we’re seeing the ecosystem becoming so consolidated. If you could tell people: ‘your equipment, our data center; we’ll make it work,’ the edge market would look very different.”

-Zachary Smith, CEO & Cofounder, Packet

Edge-focused data center providers need to focus on support: insights from an edge customer

To better demonstrate the value of the managed edge, let’s walk through a case example of a DataBank edge customer: Packet. Packet offers solutions that enable SaaS companies and large enterprises to securely manage physical infrastructure at a global scale, no matter the workload, architecture or location.

We spoke with Zachary Smith, CEO & co-founder, about Packet’s customers, and how relying on a data center comes into play in taking advantage of the edge. “Our customers want fast time to market,” Smith explained. “They don’t want to know about the data center; they just want the experience of the cloud. We put the infrastructure in the market and automate it, so they have access to bespoke infrastructure in the same way they experience the public cloud.”

When it comes to companies like Packet who help demanding users realize the benefits of the edge, they need support across a diverse range of locations for the quality of service delivery their customers deserve. It’s not feasible for a small team to manage dozens of data centers globally and maintain high SLAs. That’s why Packet relies on DataBank to set up cages and provide a full suite of managed on-site services, such as racking and stacking and validation. “My best customers expand regularly into new markets. Thanks to DataBank, our internal team doesn’t have to physically show up in Kansas City, Pittsburgh or Atlanta to set up our base infrastructure,” Smith said.“ “Because the DataBank team has a high level of expertise than other data center vendors, we’re able to more quickly expand into new markets, and trust that ongoing operations won’t impact our customers.”

Why embrace the managed edge?

While infrastructure automation at the software layer has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last few years, the experience of deploying your own infrastructure can still be a complex and difficult process. This is especially true for customers who may have never leveraged colocation. If such a customer were to approach DataBank, they’d experience a dramatically different purchasing process, having never made decisions for considerations like power, cross-connect, etc.

Unlike hyperscaler providers, and even some second-tier market data center vendors, DataBank provides a single point of contact that coordinates everything from sales through engineering. This level of service is valuable, even to experienced service providers like Packet. “Other data centers operate sales regionally, depending on the location of your account. DataBank makes it easy with a single sales and operational contact. We will continue to expand across facilities, and I’m glad to know I won’t have to manage 20 salespeople or search for skilled technicians in each market we enter on behalf of our customers,” Smith concluded.

Key takeaways

  • When you consider the complexity, cost and operational support needs of deploying infrastructure in the field coupled with the benefits of scale that comes with aggregating infrastructure in a single location, the single data center deployment to serve a metropolitan market is superior.
  • The edge customer base is dichotomous. One group of buyers are buying infrastructure wholesale from data center provides who focus on real estate exclusively. The other group of buyers need the benefits of the edge as much as they need reliable resources to manage widespread environments.
  • Companies in the market for edge-focused data centers should consider the implications of resource management. Managed services are a great option for eliminating the pressures and inconveniences of initial setup and ongoing care and feeding, particularly as locations continue to diversify.