Digital Realty: the global data centre ecosystem platform

By Matt High
Chris Sharp, CTO at Digital Realty, on powering data centre digital transformation with a global ecosystem platform...

“Forget data lakes, we’re now talking about some of the largest data oceans ever created,” says Digital Realty’s Chris Sharp, discussing the seismic evolution of data - and how enterprise and hyperscale customers use that data - towards a series of interconnected global, digital ecosystems capable of supporting even the most complex digital transformations.

Digital Realty, at which Sharp holds the role of Chief Technology Officer, Executive Vice President and Service Innovation, is a key enabler of those transformations. The company supports the global data centre, colocation, and interconnection strategies of leading organisations worldwide with a fit for purpose global data centre platform, PlatformDIGITAL. This comprehensive solution offers a model built around network, control, and data hubs, and has been created to enable the ever-changing data, security, and networking demands of these global enterprises as they grow. 

The pace at which the global digital economy has evolved has changed the way enterprises in every sector create and deliver value. Now more than ever data, technology, and an effective IT strategy are essential to enterprises. Equally so, is operating on demand, ubiquitously and in a manner that is augmented by real-time intelligence at every point of business globally. Yet, with that growth comes challenges. For example, as data creation and consumption rises, so too does the need for effective tools, networks and infrastructures to access and analyse it. This creates data gravity - a point that many enterprises reach as they scale in a digital environment. 

The global data transformation

Sharp is a seasoned technology leader, with more than 20 years’ experience and a proven track record of evolving businesses to meet the most complex and demanding technology trends. From the countless enterprise organisations that he and Digital Realty work with, he identifies an overarching trend driving change: as enterprises scale, they deploy globally and need access to their data and public cloud-based systems in a different way, yet they also all need help managing the complexity from this shift. “This is where, in my experience, Digital Realty is really able to differentiate itself from others in the market,” he says. “We are dedicated to supporting our customers in their enterprise IT journey and a crucial aspect of that is not only focusing on what they need today, but also what they’ll absolutely need tomorrow. 

“It’s essential to recognise that all enterprises and businesses - not just the hyperscalers that we deal with - are often going through significant digital transformations,” he continues. “Part of that, in terms of their data, is about being able to deploy globally consistent infrastructure to manage efficient data exchanges, rethink data flows to a broader set of partners, and build these ecosystems of community interest. Providing those organisations with an innovative and market-leading platform that’s exactly the same whether they’re in Silicon Valley, Chicago, London, Osaka, or any other location worldwide, allows access to revenue and ecosystems in a very repeatable fashion.” 

Building a global data centre platform

This approach, Sharp explains, is the driver behind PlatformDIGITAL, which he says is “about being entrenched in what each customer needs and truly supporting them on a global basis. This is what directly drove our recent announcement of expanding PlatformDIGITAL with Interxion, adding more value to our customers and deeper reach into Europe and beyond. We have a very different ethos at Digital Realty, where we want to empower our customers and be a true open platform.”

That ethos, as Sharp explains, mirrors the broader evolution of the data centre sector, as well as how companies - indeed, all of us - use data. “We’ve seen a shift wherein customers don’t want to be siloed into different products or different services - so, the differences between collocation and scale, for example. Typically, particularly with how rapidly the landscape is changing, you’ll see customers may go into collocation and outgrow it very quickly because the economics and the sheer infrastructure they need just can’t be provided through a collocation model. From our perspective, it’s about building out a robust platform that can manage all of those different fields in a seamless fashion. It’s why you’ll see us stop talking about collocation and scale, and just talk about ‘the platform’.

“That shift is really dictating the direction of PlatformDIGITAL,” he adds. “You don’t go to Hertz to rent a car for three years, you know? It’s economics. So, for us, it’s always about understanding a customer’s requirements around sizing so we can work on an environment that lets them ‘land and expand’. The other critical challenge enterprises face today beyond that blended set of services, is really around what it means to be open, so that they can get the full value from the broader landscape that they need access to.”

The last major challenge in the shift to a global ecosystem is data gravity, which Sharp describes as fundamental to successful enterprise infrastructure. By 2025, it is estimated that 463 exabytes of data will be created daily worldwide. And while that data was typically created in a centralised place, the proliferation of digital technologies, smartphones, cloud, mobile analytics and more means it is now being created everywhere. That data must still be aggregated in order to analyse, understand, and learn from it. When it collects, a growing number of services and applications use it - against this proliferation of devices, data gravity interacts. This can result in data that is near impossible to move and, according to Digital Realty, “unfavourable complexity when factoring business locations, proximity to users, regulatory constraints, compliance and data privacy.” 

To grow globally, businesses must use the global open platform approach offered by Digital Realty to mitigate the data gravity barriers created by digital transformation. “Some of the enterprises we work with aren’t fully aware of the issue, or that they should deploy in proximity to where all of this data is burgeoning or being built, and this is where PlatformDIGITAL brings huge value,” Sharp notes. “So, we can procure a cabinet in close proximity to a customer’s data - say they are looking to carry out some data analytics and want to stand up an AI farm with several GPU processors, for example - which is a real game changer for many of those enterprises we’re working with. They’re all trying to work with data analytics, to use multi-hybrid cloud architectures and our platform does that - when that data doesn’t have to travel far because the customer is immersed right in it, that’s probably the most optimal architecture that an enterprise could hope to achieve.”

Control, connect, optimise

There is also a notable trend of enterprises looking to move away from running their own data centres and data locations, Sharp reveals. He explains that, in this context, solutions like PlatformDIGITAL enable those businesses to get ahead of the curve before their footprint is too difficult to move, adding that “we can expose the benefits of having that fit-for-purpose platform that’s heavily interconnected. Believe me, I don’t run into any customers that tell me they want to continue building their own data centres.”

PlatformDIGITAL allows enterprises to leverage full interconnection capabilities across Digital Realty’s global ecosystem, including cloud service providers, partners, networks and customers, that will drive their business. According to the company, the core benefits of the platform revolve around three distinct opportunities: be in control, be connected, be optimised. In the case of control, for example, standardising deployment and operations on a single platform simplifies infrastructure and reduces risk, while the greater connection of a global platform improves business performance through participation in global digital ecosystems; it also shortens the time to connect with markets and other players in that ecosystem. 

The platform tailors infrastructure deployments and controls matched to specific business requirements, irrespective of data centre size, scale, location configuration, or ecosystem configurations. In line with the scaling of modern, digital enterprises, it lets customers operate deployments as part of a seamless extension of any global infrastructure, says the company, thus enabling global, distributed workflows at centres of data exchange to remove data gravity barriers.  

Connection and SX Fabric

“To embark on a digital transformation, the first thing an enterprise needs is storage,” Sharp says. “They need their own data store, and that’s where the IP for a lot of our customers comes from, the ability to have that data store and run analytics against it. You’re no longer talking just about owning land, but the ability to deploy high power density infrastructure in close proximity to that data store once you factor in things like AI. There’s not an industry out there today that isn’t looking to up its data analytics capabilities and it’s the proximity element that PlatformDIGITAL enables in a very efficient way.”

After storage, says Sharp, connectivity is crucial. It is here that Digital Realty’s Service Exchange (SX) Fabric on PlatformDIGITAL proves crucial. SX Fabric, which is powered by Megaport’s multi-cloud and ecosystem connectivity, is an automated global exchange of data centre cloud and connectivity solutions that enables interconnected global workflows, the integration of cloud and B2B ecosystems with virtual interconnections, and the ability to virtually connect clouds and digital ecosystems both locally and globally. “It essentially lets enterprises click and procure,” says Sharp. “They’re afforded a portal within which they can pick any one of the 150-plus cloud on-ramps from all of the top cloud providers globally through SX - all without ever having to use an engineer, or even understanding the level of complexity behind it. 

“The work that we collaborated on with Megaport on SX is really at the highest level,” he continues. “It’s very technically challenging to achieve because it revolves around the hybrid multi-cloud approach that a lot of enterprises are taking, wherein they need to establish a location to stand up their private infrastructure and then access multiple public clouds. From our perspective, it was really about aligning our enterprise customers in the market and giving them as open a platform as possible. We really like to invest in our partners, not to compete with them, and have those best-of-breed relationships that let us deliver the best capabilities to our customers.”

Global footprint

SX Fabric is just one aspect of the vast PlatformDIGITAL capability roadmap. For example, the platform offers coverage from more than 265 Digital Realty data centres in 20 countries and 44 metropolitan areas. Connections are offered through physical and virtual cross-connects and includes more than 2,000 ecosystem participants - the company plans to extend this to more than 10,000 in the future. 

More recently, the business has completed projects in Frankfurt, Dublin, and Tokyo, locations that Sharp describes as “hotbeds for enterprise customers trying to access revenue opportunities”. Take the new Clonshaugh data centre in Dublin, which forms part of an existing portfolio in the Irish capital. Ireland’s data centre economy is growing rapidly having already contributed 7.13bn euros to the nation’s economy in the last decade. Digital Realty has invested more than 200mn euros in Ireland to date, with the latest Clonshaugh development designed to underpin the importance of data-led technologies to Dublin’s economy. 

The company has also expanded PlatformDIGITAL in Germany, purchasing 1.35 acres of land in Frankfurt to address increasing customer demand. The new campus, purpose built for those enterprises looking to exploit the opportunities that PlatformDIGITAL provides will add an additional 6MW of power to the company’s existing 28MW; it offers solutions from Network Hubs through to Data Hubs. 

“With our size and our balance sheet, there’s rarely an opportunity in the market that we don’t see,” says Sharp. “If there’s an asset that will trade or customer demand around an area then we’ll spend a lot of time assessing that prospect. We already have one of the most robust platforms to serve Europe with the recent expansion of the Interxion assets, we’re constantly watching for opportunities in the Middle East and we also have an eye on some of the deeper elements of the African market. It’s also worth noting that we’re always looking to go deeper into existing markets. That’s particularly the case in terms of new technologies, such as 5G or edge computing, both of which will still need efficient access back to the core infrastructure we have today.”

Those new technologies aside, Chris believes that the global ecosystem model enabled by PlatformDIGITAL will continue to dominate. “If you would’ve told me 15 years ago that I’d still be going to work in a data centre, I’d have found it hard to believe,” he states. “But what continues to draw me in is my passion for those secular trends we have discussed, as well as other emerging trends like the personification of the data centre becoming a critical asset. Every industry and every customer out there, regardless of size, will need to have a fundamental foundation like PlatformDIGITAL that allows them to increase in power density, increase interconnection, increase in square footage or footprint, and increase in global presence.”


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