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How to optimise Hybrid IT architecture for a rapidly changing world

Every company is trying to deliver better customer experience to climb above the competition, with digital transformation and cloud strategies core to achieving this.

But fewer have finely tuned their Hybrid IT stack to deliver the best possible performance, with the lowest friction for staff and customers. According to NEXTDC, there are some no-brainer changes that can be made at relatively low cost to bring your IT stack close to your hyperscale cloud performance.

Why digital transformation is really about ‘whole of business’ transformation

Adam GardnerAdam GardnerNEXTDC Head of Product

As a community, CIOs have been living and breathing digital transformation (DX) for years, but according to NEXTDC Head of Product, Adam Gardner, it has really evolved to whole of business transformation.

What do you mean by “whole of business transformation” Adam?

People think of digital transformation as one stream in their business that is about optimising their business processes around their IT stack. But in today’s environment, IT is the business and underpins every business transformation strategy.

But if I ship boxes, isn’t shipping boxes the business?

Interestingly we have a customer in the logistics industry, who has seen its business increase by around 80% in the space of a few weeks due to social distancing and in turn, the explosion of online purchases. Behind the scenes, the customer has spent several years focussed on systematically automating and digitising every part of their internal operations. Had they not already embarked on this whole of business transformational journey, they wouldn’t have been able to scale as rapidly and successfully to support the explosive need for more logistics and shipping based support in a world where services need to be procured digitally.

To that point, we have a number of customers who are traditional bricks and mortar-based businesses, including retail, gaming and entertainment and financial institutions. Many quickly learnt that different delivery models were required to continue delivering their core services that would traditionally be served in person. They all had to pivot and scale quickly, moving their services to be 100% digital-first. Like our logistics customer, these customers have equally been focussed on their critical infrastructure platform and the role it plays in enabling their whole of business transformation objectives, whether it’s in the data centre on in public cloud. This is where NEXTDC and the hyperscale data centre plays a pivotal role in enabling organisations to evolve quickly to support the rapidly changing needs of business, processes and service delivery models.

How does NEXTDC help customers with their transformation objectives?

We provide the highly available, resilient, and scalable foundation that customers need in order to build the digital platform that literally drives and connects every aspect of their business.

Our purpose-built facilities are built to support the needs of customers and help them more seamlessly connect and integrate with the platforms their business depends on. They can colocate their on-premises IT equipment to our data centres, giving their servers a direct link into the biggest cloud providers – hyperscale clouds like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Alibaba Cloud, Oracle, IBM – from the closest possible proximity.

Many of these providers host their Australian cloud regions with us, so organisations don’t have to worry about data sovereignty or back hauling traffic all over the country which is costly and complex to manage themselves. Couple this with over 600 local partners, and you have an ecosystem that helps your organisation solve any challenge.

Our 100% uptime guarantee provides the comfort CIOs need to focus on their core business.

COVID-19: A catalyst for business collaboration

Digital transformation is a work-in-progress for organisations, but the sudden emergence of COVID-19 shone a spotlight on the importance of a responsive IT stack to help companies adapt quickly to a suddenly different world.

Every CIO is now tasked to find creative new ways for their workforce to collaborate efficiently across a distributed environment, under even tighter cost constraints than usual.

Fortunately, most businesses have made – or are part-way through implementing – a Hybrid IT stack, which allows them to retain control while benefiting from the infinite elasticity of cloud resources to scale performance and access new features without on-premises constraints.

This has enabled many companies to pivot to remote-working on a much grander scale than ever before – and it’s likely that many of these new work practices will remain long after COVID-19 is brought under control.

But Hybrid IT isn’t a “set and forget” architecture – understanding the architectural options and making the right design decisions can make all the difference when it comes to collaboration, performance, cost efficiencies.

The bottom line is that removing friction across the whole workforce by enabling a smoothly running IT machine is key to continuing to deliver improved customer experience, even amidst volatile market conditions.

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You are in how many clouds now?

A common story from CIOs is that they are only connecting into a small and carefully controlled number of public clouds. But when a thorough audit really peels the lid off the sardine tin, it invariably shows the organisation is squeezing in many more than they thought.

NEXTDC’s Head of Product, Adam Gardner, explains, “If you look deeply at the IT process, many organisations use a wide range of cloud-based applications. This could include Office 365, Skype for Business, Salesforce, SAP, Dropbox, Zoom, AWS, Google Cloud and the list goes on. “In fact, each of us uses a vast array of different cloud services. Each of those may only function as 5% of our daily processes, but if they’re down or not performing well, how much time is wasted across the workforce trying to troubleshoot or workaround the problem? Often these systems are situated within a workflow, so individually it is an annoyance, but cumulatively it can destroy productivity and output”.

Why speed matters

Putting a dollar figure on poor application performance can be elusive, however, tech giants have been able to quantify it. Greg Linden, now a Data Scientist at Microsoft, worked on performance testing at both Google and Amazon and can equate slowness to a real dollar value.

His results were incredible: each 100ms that Amazon.com was slowed down resulted in a measurable drop of 1% of sales in A/B testing (where a control group gets the usual experience and another group gets the modified site).

At Google, tests ordered by Marissa Meyer, VP of Search and User Experience, to artificially slow down Google search found that adding just half a second (500ms) of delay to Google search resulted in 20% less traffic.

The lesson, Meyer, said, was

Speed matters. People do not like to wait. Do not make them.

Industry titan Steve Jobs made a compelling back-of-the-envelope calculation in 1983 when he was developing the first Apple Mac. "The Macintosh boots too slowly. You've got to make it faster!" Jobs exhorted to the team. "You know, I've been thinking about it. How many people are going to be using the Macintosh? A million? No, more than that. In a few years, I bet five million people will be booting up their Macintoshes at least once a day."

"Well, let's say you can shave 10 seconds off of the boot time. Multiply that by five million users and that’s 50 million seconds, every single day. Over a year, that's probably dozens of lifetimes. So, if you make it boot 10 seconds faster, you've saved a dozen lives. That's really worth it, don't you think?"

The team did manage to shave more than 10 seconds off the boot speed of the Mac in the months ahead of launch, “saving lives”. Unnecessary network latency in applications is the 2020 equivalent of the floppy disk load times the Apple team struggled with in 1983. While the impacts are measured in milliseconds not seconds, poor latency can quickly add up to meaningful impact.

Imagine 25 staff connecting to an application via the internet. The software is making 1,000 network transactions per user each day. Connecting via the internet instead of a direct connection may add 30ms per transaction or 30 seconds per day. In isolation, that sounds irrelevant, however over a year and across all 25 staff, that’s over 50 hours of staff time – for that application alone – that could be freed. Now, imagine how many different applications all your staff are using across the business to get a picture of the scale of productivity loss that tiny inefficiencies can cause.

Translating speed into productivity

So many companies are now deeply reliant on cloud applications and don’t realise how small inefficiencies in their architecture can add up to reduce the productivity of their entire workforce.

Adam explains, “Humans can easily appreciate 200ms latency. When we’re talking to someone, we expect a seamless transmission and receipt of signals. Just a fifth of a second delay is jarring; it’s enough of a delay for the seamless flow of communication to be disjointed.”

The closer you can get, and the fewer hops you have to take to get to the services you use, the better the experience. The better the experience, the better the output from your organisation with less friction and fewer delays.

While delays like this are most obvious in a voice or video call, the same micro slowdowns affect productivity and performance of all corporate applications. Finance systems that take a second to refresh a page vs 100ms can measurably affect throughput across dozens or hundreds of people using that system.

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Tapping into where the cloud lives

NEXTDC’s headline is that it is “where the cloud lives”. As abstract as this may sound, it is in fact a literal reflection of the fact that NEXTDC hosts more hyperscale public cloud services in its data centres than any other data centre in Australia.

That means when your company colocates your servers inside NEXTDC, and you directly connect to your cloud services, you’re only milliseconds, if not nanoseconds, away from the likes of Microsoft, AWS, Google, Oracle, IBM and Alibaba Cloud. It’s the closest you can get to your critical digital platforms driving down your application latency.

Adam explains, “NEXTDC also partners with the nation’s major carrier networks like Vocus, Telstra, Optus and others, who can connect you to the clouds at NEXTDC data centres even without you having a rack colocated with us.”

“So, for example, if you have an office in Sydney CBD, you could use a carrier service to get to our data centre, and we would Cross Connect that service from the data centre ‘meet me room’ right into your cloud provider.”

“Simply put, we can still help you get access to the cloud directly, and affordably, even if you don’t have rack space directly with us.”

Making a direct cloud connection

“Private fibre to the cloud” sounds horribly expensive – and it could be if it was truly a point-to-point connection to a data centre – but the truth is, it’s not necessary.

Most large organisations are already in buildings served by telco fibre and getting their internet and WAN connectivity over it.

Adding a direct connection to cloud infrastructure, such as a NEXTDC data centre, is simply a matter of getting the telco to configure a virtual tunnel within the fibre path. This can deliver practically the equivalent of point-to-point dedicated fibre, at a fraction of the cost.

Alternatively, customers can relocate their physical IT footprint in the data centre and from there a standard Cross Connect will get you directly connected to the cloud infrastructure your company uses. Performance-wise, it’s the closest thing to having AWS or Azure in your office building, but with none of the responsibility or cost associated with managing it.

Adam explains,

If you’re in a NEXTDC data centre, you can connect to these hyperscale cloud providers via a single Cross Connect - $120 a month for example would give you up to 10GbE connectivity into that provider. But if you tried to buy 10GbE internet for your office, it could be well over $10,000 a month.

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Letting cloud do the heavy lifting

The point of cloud is to let massive computing resources do the data crunching in huge data centres, away from your own server room. For pure cloud instances, that philosophy holds true.

But the prevalence of hybrid cloud in most companies means data is accumulating and being processed on-premises, and then overflow workload is being shuttled to the cloud.

This means that the link between the company’s own data centre and the cloud is a limiting factor, both in terms of responsiveness (latency) and speed (throughput of the link).

By colocating your physical infrastructure at a hyperscale data centre like NEXTDC, you have the benefit of all the data accumulation and workload happening in the most resilient and reliable facilities available, with extremely fast connectivity to the cloud services taking the overflow workload.

‘No strings attached’ connectivity

Leasing high performance carrier fibre services often comes with long contracts to help the telco amortise the infrastructure spend over time. Terms of 36 months are not uncommon.

But if you colocate your servers at NEXTDC, and then allow the heavy haulage of data to happen within the data centre network, costs can be modest, and without long term contracts.

NEXTDC built the “AXON” network, which is a software defined networking ecosystem, providing Connectivity-as-a-Service.

Adam explains, “If you have an AXON port, you can provision multiple cloud connections in just a couple of minutes.

“Let’s say you have a big data transfer event on the weekend – a migration of your company’s data from an Exchange server to Office 365 for example – you can spool up a 10GbE connection to Microsoft on the Friday and shut it down on Monday.”

This Connectivity-as-a-Service isn’t only available within core data centres in Sydney, Adam points out.

“If you’re in Brisbane, where there are no hyperscale clouds hosted, and you need to transfer a large amount of data, you can log in to the AXON portal and turn on a dynamic intercapital connection within seconds for the time frame it’s needed.

In NEXTDC’s data centre network, there are over 70 carrier or carrier-like partners available. In a standard office building, there may only be one or two carriers available to service the building , Gardner explains.

The simple fact is customers have more choice and more flexible arrangements that will drive more performance and cost efficiency gains for your business.

Making the connection

As you look to better align your Hybrid Cloud architecture to enable your business strategy, NEXTDC can help support your objectives of building flexibility, versatility and resilience into your environment, allowing you to save money on the total economic impact of in-house infrastructure.

The money you can save on unnecessary real estate and inefficient network links will free you up to make the final push to complete digitisation of your business.

Talk to NEXTDC to find out how you can optimise your hybrid IT architecture for maximum performance, minimum friction, and improved customer experience.

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