The rising tide of digital transformation - further buoyed by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic - is radically reshaping the colocation landscape. In the UK, the widespread adoption of remote and hybrid working, as well as associated cloud migrations and the wholehearted embrace of digital services, is also driving the growth of a trend in the colocation space. As more and more people work remotely, and edge computing architectures become more prevalent, colocation services are undergoing a process of decentralisation.
“Until a decade or so ago, enterprise and colocation data centres in the UK were clustered around London telecom exchanges for sheer expediency. There was no other choice due to the need for lower latencies,” explains John Hall, Managing Director at Proximity Data Centres, a UK-based digital infrastructure and colocation firm at the crest of this decentralisation wave.
He continues that, with the development of more reliable servers, as well as the growing availability of more sophisticated remote monitoring software, falling fibre costs, and the shift towards the cloud, things were ready to change. “It’s increasingly viable for enterprises and service providers to choose data centres outside of the London/M25 latency zone, in regions where rental costs for rackspace and hosting facilities can sometimes be half as much as they are in the capital,” Hall adds.
What is Decentralised Colocation?
Decentralised colocation refers to an emerging trend in which enterprise servers, as well as private and hybrid clouds, are located or hosted in third-party data centres spread across multiple locations rather than just one central point.
18 months ago, the pandemic provided the catalyst for that change to manifest in a very real, very necessary way. “The continued move to cloud and edge computing architectures is now serving to disrupt the UK data centre industry on an unprecedented scale,” says Hall. “Furthermore, the working population has grown to be more productive working from home due to the pandemic. People are moving out of expensive cities to work in semi-rural areas which in turn put more pressure on backhauling traffic to the few hyperscale data centres in the UK. With demands for reduced latency, growing network bandwidth congestion and backhaul costs, there’s a growing realisation from within the industry that strategically positioned regional colocation facilities are pivotal to the success of UK edge deployments.”
Strategically positioned regional colocation
As enterprise adoption of cloud-based software solutions delivered as a service grows, Hall explains that “users, customers and modern software demand and expect increasingly fast response times.” Basically, the more elements of the digital economy rely on low-latency, high throughput infrastructure, the more mission critical it becomes. This is especially true at the cutting edge, Hall adds, where “ultra-low latency is also seen as essential in delivering future 5G and IoT enabled technologies and applications - from driverless vehicles to remote surgery and automated factories.”
Speed and low latency - along with reducing data backhaul costs - are, therefore, the core capabilities driving the evolution of the colocation industry. Unfortunately, Hall explains, “a centralised colocation or cloud model cannot achieve this, even in a relatively small country the size of the UK, due to distance-related latency.”
He elaborates: “For example, as the quality of broadband increases, with many households and small businesses connecting fibre to the premises and reaching speeds of up to 1 Gigabit, the congestion or chokepoint has moved to the hyperscale data centre. This means thinking regionally, moving data closer to users to minimise latency.”
While the difference between what Hall describes as a regional decentralised colocation data centre and your average run of the mill colo site initially might seem like a matter of careful and clever branding rather than any substantive distinction, Hall is adamant that they’re not one and the same.
“In terms of what sets the emerging category of regional edge colocation facilities apart from general purpose colocation, the regional edge colocation sites are purpose-designed to be the missing link between centralised clouds and users, computers, machines and devices at the network edge,” he says. “They are highly connected, including links to local internet exchanges and, crucially, located close enough to major UK conurbations to be within proximity of highly populated areas. Effectively, edge colocation facilities are the pillars which extend the cloud further - down to the local level. By performing much of the data processing, control and management of local applications in edge colo data centres, latency can be greatly reduced and application responsiveness optimised.”
Proximity’s strategy for the UK market is, in many ways, a big bet on the continued decentralisation of the country’s coalition market - especially as factors like the pandemic and a truly hellish real estate market continue to push economic development and users farther afield of London. “We have already opened six regional colocation sites in the past year or so with at least three more going live before the end of 2021,” says Hall. Within a year and a half, Proximity’s goal is to have 20 regional edge colocation data centres within 15 miles of 95% of the UK population.
Over the past year, explains Hall, Proximity has been “very active” in the Northwest of England. The company opened two data centres - one serving Greater Manchester and the other serving Liverpool. Both are direct points of presence (PoPs) on major networks, which makes them easily accessible to enterprise customers, CDNs, cloud and mobile operator providers.
A snowball rolling to the edge
As the decade wears on, the lingering influence of the pandemic isn’t the only factor that Hall sees as a driver of increasingly regional, decentralised colocation growth. “In this new edge computing world, and with the move to 5G and continuing impact of IoT and AI, we will see more regional colocation data centres being repurposed to meet new demanding requirements from enterprises for lower latency and greater agility,” he predicts. “They’ll need to rapidly provision and scale compute and storage resources exactly where they’re needed.”
Written by Harry Menear