Darren Watkins, managing director for VIRTUS Data Centres, argues that data centres which are ‘different by design’ are key to an organisation’s potential for innovation.
VIRTUS Data Centres acknowledges there is no technology business topic that’s been hotter for longer than innovation. An innovative company, it has long been recognised, is one that brings better products or services to its customers, meets market needs more quickly than anyone else, and – quite simply – is able to stay afloat in a hyper-competitive global market.
However, the question of how to be innovative is one that many firms struggle with. Your company probably has a new business incubator, an idea Wiki, a disciplined process for mining customer insights, or an awards programme for success stories – these are all good ideas and yet they don’t make you a truly innovative firm.
At VIRTUS, we believe that no single innovation tool or method will deliver consistent breakthroughs, and neither will a mix of disparate innovation practices. It takes a systematic approach to build true innovation — whether that’s Amazon’s logistics prowess or Apple’s consistent delivery of iconic and desirable mobile handsets. Skills, tools, metrics, processes, platforms, roles and values all have to come together in order to be truly – and sustainably – innovative. And innovation must be encouraged in all departments, not just operations and design – but in finance, HR and even IT, too.
Looking beyond the obvious
So, what are the parts of the innovation engine that are most often left out? For us at VIRTUS, it starts in the data centre.
Whilst the public face of innovation is in the charismatic CEO or the shiny new technology product, companies must recognise that arguably the most important business process to get right is the IT that drives and underpins the business – and specifically where mission critical data is stored, processed and accessed. The most forward looking organisations know that getting the data centre strategy right means they have an intelligent and scalable asset that fundamentally powers innovation. But if they get it wrong, they’re dealing with an Achilles heel, which will hamper choice and growth.
Some experts tell VIRTUS that, when it comes to the choice of data centres, coverage is everything. They believe that, ultimately, choice beyond this is irrelevant; that all data centres are the same as each other and that data centre space is therefore a commodity. However, it is vital to dispel this myth and assert that real difference can and must be achieved at this level. If organisations aren’t able to recognise that data centres are a long way from being a commodity, then their ability to operate competitively could be significantly compromised.
Can data centres really be the home of innovation?
For even the largest organisation, it is time- and cost prohibitive to build and manage a data centre, and so it is who you partner with which is the real key to success. Data centres aren’t new, so it is perhaps no surprise that they are viewed as a commodity as so many providers follow the same path: standard contracts, ways of working and processes that leave little room for negotiation and suit the provider far more than the customer.
However, flexibility is possible and innovation does happen at this level – and it is often game changing innovation.
From accreditations, space and power capacity, contractual flexibility, connectivity options and service levels, to location, data centre providers vary in many ways. And from High Performance Computing (HPC) to liquid cooling and hardware that can be pushed to the very highest temperatures, we now know that true differentiation can be achieved in the data centre.
Converged infrastructure is a good example of this – and has been a headline-making trend in data centre technology, as enterprises consistently look to streamline IT operations. Hyperconverged technology that brings together vital IT components in one system, which is managed through a software layer, is taking on a larger role within data centre infrastructure. These integrated systems promise speedier deployment and simplified management; a big breakthrough.
Virtualisation is another important innovation – letting people do more with fewer resources – and as an industry, we are finding ways to optimise everything from the back-of-house systems to hardware. Innovations in this area are helping physical data centres get a lot more productive work done whilst consuming fewer resources (and even helping data centres to become ‘greener’).
Away from the facility itself, differentiation can be achieved through the way a tech provider works with its customers. Just as the customer is king in commercial industry, the same is true in the relationship with any technology vendor. A partnership, not a service provider/customer contract, is important – where the provider listens to your needs and develops a bespoke way of working that is right for your business. It is important that facilities grow and scale as you need, and that contracts aren’t prohibitive or limiting.
The right building blocks
So, a strategic approach to innovation doesn’t start with the shiny product, the Silicon Valley offshoot or the creative director with the cool brainstorming technique. It starts by ensuring you have got the right building blocks in place to facilitate a more innovative approach. For most organisations, this starts in the IT department and more specifically in the data centre. And when managed services are the most compelling option (rather than doing it yourself), companies must seek a provider that provides more than a standard service – a provider that does it better than anyone else.
Just as customer service is king at the front-end, the same is true at the back-end too. When looking for a data centre partner, of course companies must ask questions about performance, reliability and security levels – but the real key will be in finding a partner that does things better than anyone else and who can work on your terms – in your way.
Ultimately, VIRTUS urges organisations to look for a provider that is ‘different by design’ and innovative in its own right – allowing you to drive your own innovation from a very solid starting point.
VIRTUS Data Centres
+44 (0) 203 811 4045