Choosing a data center solution isn’t as simple as it used to be. Today’s data center industry features many different types of facilities, and the terminology surrounding them can sometimes be contradictory or confusing. As long as data centers continue to be important to business performance and success, however, companies need to take the time to ensure they’re making choices that best suit their needs.
Take, for instance, the differences between enterprise data centers and edge data centers. While these facilities share some basic characteristics (servers, power distribution, cooling infrastructure, etc), they also serve very different purposes.
Like many industry terms, “enterprise” gets thrown around quite a lot and attached to several different concepts. Although sometimes used interchangeably with hyperscale data centers, an enterprise facility is defined more by its purpose and ownership than by its size and capacity. Quite simply, an enterprise data center is a private facility operated for the sole use of supporting a single organization. They can be located on-premises as part of a larger campus or business site, but in many cases they are located off-premises at a site chosen for connectivity, power, and security purposes.
The key quality of an enterprise data center, however, is the fact that it is custom-built to fit the needs of a single organization. Although building and equipping these facilities requires significant capital investment and requires ongoing expenses to maintain, they are well-suited for companies with unique network needs or those that do enough business to take advantage of economies of scale. Tech giants like Google and Facebook make extensive use of enterprise data centers, but their massive hyperscale data centers are not the most common form of private facility. Many enterprise data centers represent legacy infrastructure, facilities that were often built during the first wave of internet growth before the era of cloud computing and extensive colocation solutions.
Unlike enterprise data centers, edge data centers are frequently characterized by their size. While these facilities do tend to be smaller, the key distinction of an edge data center is its location and connectivity. Typically positioned in growing markets or on the outskirts of existing networks, edge data centers allow companies to deliver content and services to local users with minimal latency. Built for versatility and speed, edge data centers tend to be operated by colocation providers. For companies trying to penetrate a local market or improve regional network performance, these facilities are incredibly valuable.
Edge data centers play an important role in the edge computing architecture that makes the Internet of things (IoT) possible. With more IoT edge devices hitting the market every year, edge data centers provide additional processing capacity to improve performance. While much of the data gathered by IoT edge devices will be processed locally, some of it will need to be relayed back to a data center. Edge facilities ensure that this data will reach its destination quickly. They are also useful for caching high-demand content for local end users, making it possible for companies to deliver uninterrupted services to keep pace with consumer demand.
Deciding whether a company should use an enterprise data center or an edge data center depends upon a number of factors. They typically serve very different purposes. Enterprise data centers are ideal for companies that have strict security or compliance demands they can’t afford to entrust to a third-party provider. Given the high costs associated with building these facilities, an organization needs to be certain an enterprise data center will be a viable, long-term asset for their business needs.
Edge data centers, however, fill a much more specific role. For a company utilizing edge computing strategies or entering the internet of things (IoT) market, building an enterprise data center with a permanent footprint and operational cost doesn’t make much sense. The whole point of edge computing architecture is to provide flexibility. Today’s edge could be the core of tomorrow’s network. For these companies, strategic colocation with an edge data center makes far more sense than investing in a new enterprise facility.
A multi-data center strategy that takes into account a broad array of organizational needs might also make sense for a company. As the contrast between enterprise data centers and edge data centers (not to mention hyperscale data centers) demonstrates, some facilities are ideally suited to very specific roles. When a company makes a decision about its data center strategy, it should consider what problem it wants to solve and evaluate how well a given facility will help it meet those needs. In some cases, that could be the security of an enterprise data center or the versatility of an edge data center.