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How are Data Centres Adapting to the Challenge of Covid-19?

Ross Kelly

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Data centres Covid-19

DataVita managing director, Danny Quinn, discusses how the company has reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic and what it means for the future of data.

Data is the lifeblood of modern society, fuelling our organisations and economy, as well as the services and the lifestyles we pursue online.

During such an unprecedented period, one in which the nation has been under strict lockdown, ensuring that data flows seamlessly has been critical.

Millions of Brits across both the public and private sectors have been working from home, whilst their organisations have been forced to pivot to operate online.

With these rapid changes, great challenges have arisen for companies around the world, with many re-considering how they manage and store data.

Data centre operators have been on the front-line in this battle to keep our information economy ticking over and ensure continuity of service for organisations across the country.

DIGIT caught up with Danny Quinn, managing director of multi-cloud service provider, DataVita, to discuss how the company has reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic and what it means for the future of data.

DataVita operates Scotland’s only purpose-built Tier 3 data centre, providing critical services to support organisations, government services and local authorities across the country.

In the early days of Britain’s Covid outbreak, many businesses were faced with difficult decisions on whether to continue operating, scale back or shut down completely. For DataVita, the situation was critical, and the luxury of scaled back operations was unthinkable.

Going into the crisis, Quinn explains that years of planning and establishing contingencies helped enable the firm to react swiftly and ensure continuity of critical services.

“We’re part of the national critical infrastructure and run a lot of key systems for enterprise and public sector organisations, so resiliency is a key aspect of our business,” he says.

“Our customers expect an organisation like us to have these systems already in place, which we do, and it’s a big part of our process when we are taking on the care for some of these critical systems,” Quinn adds.

Resilience spans a number of areas, Quinn explains, it doesn’t apply solely to infrastructure, it also includes the resilience of business operations and how it can adapt during unthinkable crises.

The initial impact operationally he believed to be negligible, and primarily focussed around ensuring the safety of employees through PPE.

“We had to look at how we maintained the safety of employees, especially within the data centre in terms of extra protection and changes to our methods. But fortunately, there were no real fundamental changes that we were required to make for the business to continue operating.”

The initial scramble for organisations to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of remote working presented DataVita with a surge of new challenges – many of which were focused around new risk mitigation measures.

“Over the first couple of weeks, we had a massive surge in very varied, individual problems from customers,” he explains. “Particularly if their office housed a data centre, IT equipment or has a key network part of it.”

Organisations faced an initial challenge of trying to ensure that their critical systems continue to operate? And for some, Quinn thinks, the furore of the pandemic “showed up cracks” in terms of how their organisations deal with pressure.

“We have not ever experienced something like this as a society, so for all organisations, both public and private, the reality was that one day we were told that most of us weren’t allowed to go into work.

“That gives almost every organisation some level of issue and challenge,” he adds.

So far, the pandemic has highlighted the resilience of physical infrastructure, Quinn suggests. And it will likely be a recurring discussion moving forward in the wake of the crisis.

“We talk about the cloud a lot, but this crisis has shown that the actual physical infrastructure is critically important to so many organisations in terms of connectivity,” he says.

“How do my users connect? How do I connect them securely? How do I mitigate risks? These are all questions that were forced upon organisations across a range of sectors,” Quinn adds.

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One of the biggest changes Quinn and DataVita have witnessed so far has been the realisation among many businesses that their on-premise infrastructure presents a challenge when operating within new, remote-focused models.

Having something physical, something tangible to maintain and look after, something employees are required to touch; all of these variables are new challenges to adapt to.

“We had some customers who, initially, were completely locked out of their buildings,” Quinn explains.

“So, one of the biggest challenges that we have had to overcome from that is that we’ve had to move customers out of data centres,” he adds.

As lockdown begins to ease and a sense of normality returns to society, working environments in the ‘new normal’ might retain some of these adaptations, and changes to working practices will likely be a long-lasting legacy of Covid-19 from a business perspective.

Quinn insists the pandemic has also underlined the critical role data centres play in a modern society. “We class ourselves as the fourth utility, and people notice when a certain utility isn’t there when you just assume it’s ever-present… Digital assets are becoming almost as critical as your traditional facilities, such as gas and water, and that is only going to increase.

A back-to-basics approach in regards to security and resilience will also have a lasting positive impact in the wake of the pandemic.

Traditionally, when engaging with customers, Quinn says the focus was very much on digital transformation or the next stage of a company’s evolution, such as moving into a multi-cloud infrastructure.

But while those conversations are still ongoing, he notes that a fresh focus has been placed on flexibility, resilience, and risk mitigation; organisations are paying attention to the basics and that will have a positive lasting impact.

“There has been a fundamental revert back to the basics of everything, from a personal perspective and in terms of how organisations are looking at their most basic foundations – are we resilient, are we secure, can we continue to operate flexibly? These are all at the forefront of people’s thoughts.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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