Data Centers: Marketing claims won't convince customers, security and service are what matters

As the data centre industry begins to mature, customers are coming to the conclusion, as is right, that data centre selection is about much more than power and cooling. All data centres have power and all have some form of cooling. Of course, there are varying amounts of power available, but most data centres can meet the needs of most customers. At the recent Finance and Investment Forum the clear message from investors and customers was, "We don't care about your silly claims, we care about how secure the data centre is and we care about the service we get".

As an industry, most data centre businesses seem to be obsessed by a 'mine's bigger than yours' type of attitude. (Maybe it isn't maturing quite as fast as we think!) 'My data centre is Tier 3', 'Mine's Tier 3* with bells on', 'I've got a PUE of 1.2', 'Mine's 1.1' - the problem with these claims is;

a) They are not true,

b) They are mostly unachievable,

c) They are almost always self proclaimed,

d) Customers aren't even interested.

The hype invariably has little or no substance. Yes, the customer cares that the data centre is available when they need it. The customer might even care about the data centre's efficiency; although many are charged for power whether they use it or not, so are less interested because any savings from efficiencies won't be passed on to them anyway.

The customer rightly expects that the data centre will be always on. They expect that there will be sufficient redundancy that if one element fails there will be another to take its place without affecting service. Customers expect that the data centre is built to run as efficiently as possible. After all, the industry has been shouting about that stuff for years. There is hardly a data centre provider who hasn't claimed to be 'Tier 3', (almost always self proclaimed), or doesn't claim that their PUE is smaller than everyone else's, (usually self proclaimed with no evidence to back it up). What many don't want to talk about - because it isn't their strong point, is security or service.

Customers care about security and service far more than they care about what tier the data centre provider's marketing department claims it to be or what its PUE is - in fact, they don't even care what PUE stands for, and why should they? The customer wants to know, will my equipment and data be secure? And what kind of service can I expect? If I call up in the middle of the night because my server appears to have gone down, how will I be treated? In the unlikely event of an incident at the data centre, how will my services be prioritised?

Almost every week there is another story about a security breach of some form or another.

Some drunken MP left a laptop on a train, some idiot in a Government department posted a CD with everyone's National Insurance number on it and it got lost, hackers leaked the passwords of several thousand users of a 'cloud' provider, security guards in a data centre were asked to sign for the removal as thieves stole their core routers. Customers need to be safe in the knowledge that processes and procedures are robust enough to protect against any breach. It is surprising how many data centres lack these kinds of basics.

There are some data centres where it takes hours to get in, even when you're expected. It might take 30 minutes to get through the front door, but if you want to get in just nip around the back and use the loading bay; there isn't anyone there and you can get to wherever you like in the building. Processes should be robust and effective to protect customers' data and equipment, but should be smooth and seamless to enable ease of access when authorised. Security of data is paramount to most organisations and yet some data centres are only paying lip service to it, preferring, instead, to talk about what 'Tier' they claim to be or how low their PUE is - immeasurable and unchallengeable and much easier to talk about!

Service, too, is notoriously poor across the industry. Many, ashamedly, take the view that once the customer has signed a contract they are locked into it for a number of years. Even when it expires, it will be too difficult or expensive to move. That may have been true once, but it certainly isn't any more. It seems that the majority of data centre providers have jumped on the 'cloud' bandwagon, with few having any knowledge of what they are claiming as 'cloud services'. What they have also failed to understand is that unless they start to recognise the need to provide good service, the cloud is likely to be their nemesis.

Cloud can mean many things to many marketing departments, but what it definitely means is that a customer can move more easily between providers. Using a cloud platform enables customers to migrate data, and possibly applications, away from one data centre and into another. We would never advocate using the cloud alone as a place to store important or sensitive data, (remember the hackers who leaked the passwords of several thousand cloud customers!), using it to migrate from one platform or facility to another is probably a good reason for its use.

The forthcoming Datacloud Congress, (formerly Data Centres Europe), is leading the way in recognising this shift in customer attitudes. There is a Cloud theatre, but much of that thread is about security in the cloud and/or using the cloud. There will be a Cyber Security Summit, chaired by myself, that will take a deep look at security in the cloud. There is also a Data Centre theatre which will also be considering security and service as part of the IT sourcing decision.

Listen to your customers, they are almost always right security and service are what matters, marketing hype doesn't!

Alex Rabbetts, CEO MigSolv will be chairing panel discussions at BroadGroup's Datacloud Congress and exhibition held at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, 3-4th June 2015

This story, "Data Centers: Marketing claims won't convince customers, security and service are what matters" was originally published by Computerworld UK.

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