In swinging open the doors of the data centre, a new market reality is emerging across Asia.
Battered, bruised and blind-sided by new and emerging technologies, businesses are turning to the channel to rebuild infrastructure strategies in the pursuit of innovation.
Looking forward, spending on data centre systems is expected to increase, spanning servers, storage and network equipment.
But as the pace of business increases, demands placed on the data centre are changing at pace, with IT departments no longer required to merely keep the lights on.
“There is no denying that digital transformation is at the core of what we do,” observed Angela Coronica, regional manager of data center solutions at Cisco.
“Data is currency today and this is having a profound impact on the data centre, but also IT infrastructure, the network and applications.
“Customers require partners capable of helping manage this change and to provide insight into the future direction of the market.”
In assessing the “billions of devices” currently flooding the market, Coronica said the demands placed on the network are increasing in parallel, placing new levels of importance on customer data.
“Customers are looking for guidance,” Coronica added. “This is causing a lot of stress for end-users in terms of where they invest given the increased need for business transformation.
“Some customers have transformed, such as financial services, but there’s a huge opportunity for the channel to educate businesses further.
“For partners, they must also ensure their own staff are skilled and qualified to address all the concerns that customers have. We’re operating in a rapidly changing environment which can be very challenging and complex.”
Following a strong end to 2017, worldwide spending on data centre systems is forecast to grow 3.7 per cent in 2018, reaching US$188 billion according to Gartner findings.
“In general, market knowledge and awareness around the data centre is improving,” said Mark Tan, managing director of Innovix Distribution. “But whether cloud, on-premises or off-premises, a tug of war exists across the industry.”
Sitting in the epicentre of the channel, Innovix is well placed to assess the changing demands of the end-user, reseller and vendor within the data centre, with a presence across Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and Malaysia.
The distributor has a vast product portfolio of more than 80 leading enterprise and commercial brands, backed up by a base of over 7,800 channel partners in Asia.
“I have seen businesses house everything in a data centre and for some, this was a cost saving but for others, it was expensive,” Tan said. “Customer requirements are different and our role as a distributor is to help our channel partners remove the complexity.
“Irrespective of the technology, I believe decision makers should ensure finance is a core part of the conversation. This is crucial to ensuring businesses make the right investment whether they move in the direction of cloud, on-premises or off-premises.”
Defining the data centre
As new technologies flood the market - such as cloud, intelligent edge and digital offerings - the definition of the data centre is changing alongside.
The knock-on effect is a channel now tasked with delivering industry change at speed and at scale.
“The definition of a data centre continues to evolve and this is changing how technology providers engage with customers,” said David Batrouney, managing director of Asia at Datacom.
However, Batrouney acknowledged that the fundamentals haven’t changed and expectations still centre around an ability to store and manage data.
“The basic function of a data centre to provide security, efficiency and management of data still exist,” Batrouney added. “But if you step back from that, the individual is starting to mature which is a crucial development in the industry because skills and talent are critical.
“How do I start to develop my skills to capitalise on the concept of a broader data centre? And yes, finance is also a huge consideration in this process as customers still juggle with CAPEX and OPEX consumption models.”
According to IDC findings, at least 55 per cent of organisations will be “digitally determined” in Asia Pacific by 2020, transforming markets and reimagining the future through new business models and digitally enabled products and services.
In short, digitally determined organisations demonstrate the ability to vision, plan, and operationalise digital transformation through “ambition, grit, discipline, commitment and hard work”.
Ultimately, all digital determined organisations aspire to become digital native enterprises.
“Today the buying patterns have changed,” observed Elson Chia, country head of infrastructure services and solutions at Fujitsu Asia. “Customers are spending money but they want results fasters, they need outcomes quickly.
“The cloud offers an element of that but we’re dealing with a new generation of technologies. Our customers want innovation and speed because businesses today are facing a lot of challenges.
“Our role is to help customers work through digital transformation and respond to the high demand in the market.”
For Joe Tan - general manager at ST Engineering - most customers operate on the services side of the market, creating different requirements in the process.
“Some have jumped on the bandwagon of using public clouds for new applications but some are still keeping data in-house,” Tan added. “A lot of our customers are still assessing what can go into the cloud, especially with security such a big concern.”
Delving deeper into the data centre, Tsu Pheng Lim, chief technology officer at Logicalis Asia, cited two key trends impacting the local market, based around DevOps and automation, in addition to cloud.
“We believe that eventually every customer will deploy some cloud services if they haven’t already,” Lim said. “Speed and agility will be key for businesses going forward.
“This is a big change for the market because rather than building their own data centre functions from scratch, they can just go to the cloud.”
According to Lim, data and applications now have the flexibility to “sit anywhere”, creating both opportunities and challenges around portability and visibility.
“Whether it be on-premises, the cloud, different locations of the data centre or different clouds altogether, portability and visibility of apps and data are crucial considerations for customers,” Lim explained.
As revealed by sister publication Network World, smarter infrastructure, workload rationalisation and as-a-service procurement continue to dominate the data centre conversation for customers.
“Today’s data centres are really out of sync with the equipment that’s inside them,” said Jennifer Cooke, research director of data centre at IDC. “It would be like using the enclosure for a 1984 Macintosh with the current generation of iMac.
“It just doesn’t jive very well. The power, cooling and space requirements have all morphed.”
Consequently, Cooke said the mismatch is driving enterprises to overhaul data centre strategies to keep pace with - and help accelerate - business operations.
According to IDC, by 2020, the demands of next-generation apps and new IT architectures will force 55 per cent of enterprises to upgrade existing facilities or deploy new facilities.
“Customers are seeking innovation and they require guidance around the data centre,” said Lim Cheng Guan, country manager of 3D Networks. “We see businesses with long wish lists and our role is to help solve issues around applications, software and hybrid cloud.”
From a spending perspective, consumption-based procurement in data centres will have eclipsed traditional procurement by 2020, according to IDC.
Specifically, this is through improved "as-a-service" models, accounting for as much as 40 per cent of enterprises’ IT infrastructure spending.
“Like many partners, we realise that customers are opting for an OPEX model due to the emergence of cloud,” observed Vincent Ma, pre-sales manager at Stone Forest IT. “Our initiatives today are moving more towards solutions and app-driven offerings.
“Some customers today would still rather use a data centre because of the perception that the data centre is much more secure than the cloud, due to physical and data security factors.
“We see industries such as the finance and healthcare sectors place their data in data centres and we’re advocating that businesses take great care when storing their information.”
With data centre modernisation a top priority, within the next 12 months, 50 per cent of organisations will have initiated efforts to rationalise workloads, instead accelerating the adoption of next-generation workloads as a result.
“During the past 12 months, we’ve seen an increase in requests for multi-tenanted services across public and private cloud platforms,” said Andrew Tan, managing director of JOS Singapore. “Our conversations spread across Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and Alibaba Cloud, as customers now have choice.
“Businesses are also taking advantage of improved monitoring, management and the ability to scale-up and scale-down depending on specific needs.”
Speaking as sales manager of Knowledge Computers, Clarissa Glass said businesses in Asia today struggle to understand the importance of data.
“We spend so much money as an industry on creating the best data centres with the best cooling systems but once it’s in the hands of the customers, they are not utilising the data that is stored,” Glass said. “Most customers do not check where their data is actually going and that’s a worrying trend.
“Granted, more customers are taking notice of this but I feel that there is still a lack of education and awareness around the importance of the data.
“Businesses will spend a fortune on servers to hold the data, but won’t necessarily know what to do once the data leaves the data centre.”
This Channel Asia Roundtable was in association with Cisco and Innovix Distribution.