Distinguishing Colocation Services With Automated Workflow

colocation centerWhen it comes to choosing colocation facilities, it’s a given fact that the more management tools the facility has, the more visibility the tenant has into the services received. However, for the colocation provider, it’s not about throwing more software at a facility to just operate it, it is about implementing the best software tools to ensure the operations are optimized and transparent for the tenants.

Every colocation provider knows that there are certain aspects of facility optimization that if done correctly, can have a major impact on lightening the workload, as well as delivering a holistic view of the IT systems and how they impact business services for the tenant. An automated workflow process will benefit the colocation provider and the tenant by:

• Aligning compliance operations with regulatory standards.

• Reducing downtime and resolving issues with more consistent controls and policies.

• Eliminating accidental downtime by enabling consolidation of data center assets.

As workflow management becomes more refined, there will be a longer list of areas for automation. But it all starts with implementing the correct data center service management tools to consistently manage varying processes in the modern data center. This is where the next-generation data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools become paramount.

DCIM solutions enable mission-critical facility providers to continuously optimize their operations — to the highest levels of performance — in order to benefit their tenants. Far beyond the limitations of building management and simple automation systems, today’s DCIM solutions offer in-depth visibility into the entire workflow process including historical trends, forecasting issues, incident reporting and SLA breaches. For colocation providers prioritizing services for their tenants, a DCIM solution is as necessary as security at the front door for:

• Safely viewing power, space, capacity and usage information without compromising the security of other tenants.

• Accurate billing based on actual power usage.

• Providing proof of Service Level Agreement (SLA) compliance.

Perhaps the biggest benefit a DCIM solution offers to a tenant is complete visibility into SLAs. These contractual obligations between a colocation provider and their tenants outline expected customer services as well as the various provisions the provider needs to undertake to ensure delivery. However, a major barrier confronting these agreements is that the colocation provider often has trouble capturing the right data and effectively presenting it to tenants in order to prove that services have been rendered as contractually outlined.

DCIM conforms to the SLA obligations by empowering both the provider and the tenants with visibility into how the facility assets are being managed. By automating this workflow, tenants can easily access their specific assets and drill down into:

• Service delays in hours or days.

• Reported security issues.

• Time to resolution and break-fix responses.

• Power consumed and applicable costs.

In addition to accurately documenting and displaying the aforementioned “drill down” services like a cell phone bill, DCIM solutions demonstrate considerable value for colocation tenants when compliance is taken into consideration.

Adhering to government and regulatory compliance mandates is the responsibility of the colocation provider as well as the tenant. To remain in compliance with a broad spectrum of data center regulations, providers must have documented proof as to how all the assets are being managed, where the assets are located, who has access and what changes are being made.

It’s a veritable pot of alphabet soup when it comes to proving compliance! But DCIM’s automation of compliance workflows can be critical to demonstrate for tenants the adherence to Gramm-Leach-Bliley, HIPAA, Sarbanes Oxley and even ISO-related standards. Think of DCIM as the workflow automation that provides a safety net for the colocation providers from angry tenants who may have fines levied against them for noncompliance.

Once a DCIM tool is in place and collecting data, it’s just an additional step to start leveraging machine learning capabilities to further optimize tenant services. Machine learning leverages the data that DCIM sensors have captured from the IT equipment and various applications, using it to discern specific patterns regarding predictive power and thermal, command and control actions from analytics reporting as well as data from custom patent development. According to a December 2017 report from Gartner, “By 2020, 30 percent of data centers that fail to implement AI and ML will cease to be operationally and economically viable.”  With machine learning in place, colocation providers can truly enhance tenant services by:

• Truly understanding workloads or hyper-cloud optimization needs.

• Optimizing new cloud equipment placements based on power predictions.

• Enhancing maintenance and ensuring SLAs by predicting future disruptions.

For tenants, it’s a buyer’s market. To attract and retain tenants, colocation providers can no longer simply offer space and power. They must be full-service providers with iron-clad SLAs that document power and cooling management while demonstrating to their tenants that their facility is fully insulated from the compliance auditor specter.

The implementation of workflow automation via DCIM tools will benefit both the colocation provider and the tenant. Providers need to look beyond the rudimentary building management systems and automation tools. These data-siloed warehouses cannot scale, nor will they become the differentiator needed to attract today’s industry-savvy tenant. In the same manner consumers can now open an application to research, find the best price and the nearest location of a desired car, today’s colocation tenants are armed with the same knowledge before they enter a facility.  DCIM’s automated workflow provides tenants with the compliance, power and security assurance that their facility is the best option to contain the mission-critical data — while also giving the provider the peace-of-mind that services will be continued as contracted.

Mark Gaydos is CMO at Nlyte, where he oversees teams that help organizations understand the value of automating and optimizing how they manage their computing infrastructure.