The legendary boxers are always the heavyweights: Ali, Frazier, Rocky Marciano, Tyson. And it’s the same with data centers. There is something about the most giant, mega-data centers that captures the public imagination. Their sheer scale makes them unmissable feats of modern engineering.

The boxing analogy is a surprisingly rich one when it comes to data centers, particularly in the raging debate about cloud. Pound for pound, the most critically acclaimed and effective boxers tend to be welterweights – less than 150lbs  – like Sugar Ray Leonard, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. These guys successfully combine strength with speed and agility. Their success mirrors the growing trend toward more nimble data center instances; small yet complete packages that punch above their weight from the edge of the ring rather than slugging it out at the center.

As cloud takes over the mainstream and applications like IoT (the Internet of Things) dominate digital thinking, the focus is turning away from data center architectures that centralise computing intelligence. In this model, the action is becoming too far away from where it’s needed. A far more distributed approach is required.

Why? Take the retail sector, where analysts at Zebra predict between 70-80 percent of store chains will by 2021 have invested heavily in IoT and big data solutions to improve personalized customer experience, enhance supply chain efficiency and generate extra revenue. Their IT intelligence urgently needs to shift from the core to the edge of the network to support the rapid deployment in more MPOS terminals, automation, store-based sensors and other IP-enabled endpoints.

And as retailers pump more cash into impulse and mobility buying platforms, the very suggestion of downtime or slow data access becomes absolutely unthinkable. More IT resources will be needed locally, and require high levels of protection and optimization.

None of this undermines the critical principles of cloud; it’s just that the necessity of obtaining low latency, high agility application responsiveness demands decentralization.

The result is a leaner, meaner multiple-instance data center estate that skips around the ring like lightning, rather than being stuck at the center constantly over-stretching to land its blows.

The actual solutions are manifest as a new breed of micro-data centers; self-contained, secure computing environments with all the storage, processing power and networking needed to run mission-critical applications, 24/7. And because zero downtime is imperative, these solutions even include their own onboard UPS power protection, DCIM software and cooling capabilities.

Self-containment is key because micro-data center are largely autonomous. They have to be. As management efforts shift from core data center infrastructure to many more instances situated nationally or globally, the introduction of micro- data centers demands a standardized, cookie-cutter approach to branch site deployment. Retailers often have hundreds or thousands of manufacturing facilities, depots and stores.  Hence micro- data centers must be ready to roll straight off the shipping pallet and work without manual intervention from onsite staff. This underlines the importance of good DCIM.

It isn’t just retailers of course; finance, education and healthcare sectors are also in the vanguard for micro- data center adoption owing to their multi-site based infrastructures and business models.  Here, centralised mega-data centers just aren’t agile enough for the challenges they face at the edge of the network.

So, in some sectors, expect to see big, legacy data center deployments hanging on the ropes while new micro- data center strategies enter the ring. It doesn’t spell the end of the heavyweights, but this latest response to cloud evolution does show that you don’t have to be large to land a knockout blow.

About the Author

Nick Claxson is a knowledgeable IT leader with over 20 years’ experience at the cutting edge of applying disruptive digital technology to growing UK organizations.  As MD and founder of Comtec Enterprises, Nick remains deeply involved in identifying and perfecting innovative IT solutions and is passionate about the role that cloud technologies can play in boosting the competitiveness of the UK’s SME base and public sector institutions.