A year after the world was disrupted by COVID-19, there is a growing recognition that some of the changes brought about by the virus are here to stay. Though face masks may not become a permanent part of our wardrobe, remote work has gained widespread acceptance and is likely to become a standard way of doing business; at least for some employees.

COVID-19 is also credited with spurring the pace of Digital Transformation. A recent survey of over one thousand senior executives by Forbes found that 97% believe the virus accelerated Digital Transformation. Digital Transformation employs technology to respond with agility to the demand for new services. Now, in addition to developing better processes for existing business functions, IT departments are expected to drive business innovation to generate revenue. This has caused a shift in priorities and has accelerated outsourcing those functions that can be performed by others.

Colocation is an IT infrastructure service that provides secure space in an enterprise class data center where organizations can house their IT servers and associated equipment. Colocation improves system availability by providing redundant power, redundant environmental control systems, redundant internet carrier circuits with automatic failover, and continuous monitoring. It also provides greater security by employing multi-level password protected access points, locked cages and cabinets, and continuous video monitoring. Colocation clients reduce capital expenses and save money by moving their IT systems to a data center where expenses are shared and where economies of scale prevail.

Remote Hands services are another colocation benefit. IT professionals at the colocation facility are available to verify and recycle power, check equipment status and connectivity, and receive delivered equipment. These services are often provided at no additional charge and can offload work from a company’s IT staff. Remote Hands services are especially important since the onset of COVID-19 as they free up corporate IT resources and make it possible for employees to minimize risk by working remotely.

Since the significant increase in Remote Work/Work at Home due to the virus, the people charged with providing IT support for a company’s employees have seen their workloads increase dramatically. Whether support is provided by an internal IT support group or an external IT consultant or Managed Service Provider (MSP), the number of end-points to deploy and monitor has gone up significantly since employees started working remotely.

Before COVID-19, the IT department only had to support a single firewall and router for everyone working at a particular office. Now, with employees working from home, IT must manage a router, firewall and other equipment for each home office. Adding to the challenge, each home office may have a unique combination of equipment of different vintages from a variety of manufacturers. Each remote worker also requires ongoing software patch updates for their home office equipment. Finally, monitoring and repairing each remote worker’s IT equipment is more difficult than if the employee worked at an office where IT personnel could access the equipment directly. Even relatively small numbers of remote workers can quickly overwhelm a corporate IT support team.

Fortunately, colocation service providers can provide much needed help to beleaguered IT professionals. Outsourcing IT infrastructure support makes it possible for corporate IT professionals to focus on more important functions such as Digital Transformation, creating new revenue streams, and to work remotely to reduce health risks. The CAPS data center in Shelton, CT is available to provide the IT infrastructure colocation services needed as companies adapt to the new world since COVID-19.

Colocation services are CAPS’ bread and butter. Here in Connecticut, we have offered a secure and reliable data center in Shelton for clients to locate their servers, data storage, and communications systems since 1995. Colocation may be used to host production systems or backup systems; but which is most popular?

In our experience, most clients start by collocating their backup systems. They may have had these systems in place at one of their offices. Then a decision is made to move the backup system to a colocation data center. This is typically done to improve security and availability but there may also be a need to fulfill compliance requirements.

For increased reliability, backup systems should be located at a different place from production systems. Though some organizations will use a Public Cloud (AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud) for backup, others prefer to host their backup systems at a local colocation facility. Advantages of having a colocation facility that is within an hour’s drive of the organization’s headquarters include reduced latency and easier access to equipment when required. In many cases, local colocation facilities may offer better security too. The cost also may be lower at a local colocation data center since Public Cloud data egress fees can add up quickly as many have unfortunately discovered. Finally, a local colocation data center offers more personalized and tailored services.

Though most organizations first employ colocation for backup functions, they may ultimately decide to move their production systems to the colocation facility while repositioning backup systems to their office. After gaining some experience with colocation, clients frequently choose to swap the location of their backup and production systems. IT managers are understandably wary about trusting their production systems to a colocation provider initially. After they gain experience with colocation, they come to realize it may make more sense for their production systems to reside in the more secure and reliable facility.

The recent trend to Work From Home resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will shift more production workloads to colocation data centers. Companies that abandon their offices completely often have residual IT infrastructure that needs to find a suitable new home. Proprietary production applications that are not suitable for the Cloud can be hosted at a local colocation facility with backup elsewhere. Even if a company decides to keep its office, it may start having employees work a few days a week from home and a few days at the office.  Offices may be reduced in size and they may be reconfigured to provide for greater social distancing. Regardless, there will be growing interest in moving IT systems out of the office to free up space for employees. Adapting to the new Work From Home world will likely drive more production systems to colocation facilities.

Whether for production or backup workloads, colocation facilities provide a cost-effective service to both improve availability and security. For those organizations in Connecticut and metropolitan New York, CAPS provides outstanding colocation services and is proud that our clients have not experienced an unscheduled power outage in over 20 years.

The provision of cost-effective uninterrupted power is one of the primary benefits of colocation. Though electrical power generation may seem like a mature technology, there is a surprising amount of change  underway; particularly in our state.

Connecticut has a long history of electric power generation dating back to the years immediately following Thomas Edison’s pioneering innovations. Pictured above is the construction in 1889 of the first hydroelectric plant in New England on the Farmington River. This plant powered Hartford at the end of the century as it grew to become one of the leading cities in America.

Since those early days of waterpower, electricity in the Nutmeg State has been generated in many different ways. Coal, oil, natural gas, and even garbage have been incinerated to power the turbines that generate electricity. Nuclear Power played a significant role for several decades. Like coal and oil, the days of nuclear power in Connecticut are waning. The future will see more environmentally friendly energy sources like natural gas and renewables. For example, last year Connecticut selected Vineyard Winds to develop an offshore 804 MW wind power project that is scheduled to come online in 2025. Much of this innovation is an attempt to reduce cost while addressing environmental concerns.

Regardless of the energy source used to generate electricity, data centers are very dependent upon power. This is because IT systems require continuous sources of electricity to function properly. To assure high availability, colocation data centers typically provide primary and secondary power circuits backed up by redundant Uninterruptible Power Supplies and redundant generator systems. The cost of electrical power typically represents between 20% and 30% of colocation operating expenses.

Another changing condition is the trend toward higher power density requirements in data centers. Connecticut is home to universities, health care providers, research facilities and financial institutions that are pioneering the development of Artificial Intelligence applications. These processing intensive workloads require data centers that can support higher power densities.

As recently as 5 years ago the average power required for a data cabinet was about 5 KW. In 2019 the average had grown to 7.3 KW per rack and in 2020 it surged to 8.2 KW. Colocation facilities, such as CAPS, are designed to support the higher power densities required by Artificial Intelligence and other processing intensive applications.

It may not be practical or cost-effective to redesign corporate facilities to support these higher power densities. In addition to provisioning additional power and providing redundant power backup, data centers must also be able to handle the significant additional cooling requirements that higher power density racks require. Organizations facing increasing IT power density requirements should consider moving their systems to a colocation facility that is better suited to handle these demands.

CAPS provides a secure colocation facility with plenty of available power and including the redundant cooling systems required for today’s high power density requirements. We recognize the critical importance of power to our colocation clients and are extremely proud of the fact we have not had an unscheduled disruption of power to any of our clients in over 20 years.

Colocation offers benefits that include increased flexibility, better redundancy, improved security and cost savings. With widespread adoption of cloud architectures, another colocation benefit is being realized. As organizations move applications to the Public Cloud, latency problems increase for certain workloads. Colocation, because it makes it possible to move workloads closer to end users, can be an effective way to reduce location-based latency problems.

Latency is the measure in milliseconds of the Round Trip Time (RTT) required for a data request to be serviced. Many workloads perform well enough without special accommodations. Though studies indicate more than half will typically abandon a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load, most website requests are serviced in less than a second. Research by Google indicates that if a search request takes a half second (500 ms) to yield results there will be a reduction in traffic of about 20%. Amazon estimates every latency increase of 100 ms will result in a 1% reduction in sales.

Though many experience latency below 100 ms, we should not conclude we are in the clear as far as latency is concerned. There are applications where very low latency is essential. Virtual Reality headsets can become disorienting if latency exceeds about 10 ms with some users saying they experience something akin to sea sickness. Multi Player games, Autonomous Vehicles, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, health care monitors, and factory robots all require very low latency with some demanding latency below 10 ms. The trend is an increasing requirement for low latency applications.

Latency is impacted by a number of variables including available bandwidth, network congestion, packet switching quality, network configuration, and the performance of network equipment. The route taken by a particular transmission is especially important. Typically, an internet connection passes through 10 to 12 gateway nodes as packets are processed and forwarded from one router to the next. Delays imposed by these “hops” are a major source of latency and are not mitigated by simply adding more bandwidth.

Public Cloud (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud) users are coming to the realization that latency can pose a significant problem for certain cloud workloads. This is due to the number of hops to be traversed and the geographic location of the various nodes in a transmission. Though packets are sent at the speed of light, the actual distances to be covered can total thousands of kilometers. Packets can be sent across the country and back for delivery to a nearby destination depending on the routing algorithms in use.

If end users are clustered in a particular region then a nearby colocation facility should be considered to address Public Cloud based latency issues. By hosting servers near end users you will dramatically reduce the distance that packets must traverse. You will also likely reduce the number of hops.

Connecticut has many organizations that may benefit from moving some workloads from the Public Cloud to a local colocation facility. This is because these organizations primarily serve data to local end users. The state is home to many universities where students access information from systems that are close to where they live. Hospitals and other health care providers also primarily serve local clients and have increasing demands for low latency to support real-time monitors. Municipalities and state government agencies also have a local footprint and deploy IoT applications that require low latency. Manufacturers and many other companies in Connecticut have low latency requirements and a local focus and thus may be able to improve their data delivery performance.

Please contact CAPS if your organization serves a local end user population here in Connecticut and you are concerned about latency. We can help you determine if colocation and/or our local cloud services can provide better responsiveness to your clients by locating your workloads closer to your end users.

Some companies are vacating their offices for good. Having survived months where their employees were forced to work remotely due to COVID-19, they have decided to Work From Home (WFH) permanently. Of course, this is being done to save the expense of leasing an office. The savings can be significant as office space in Connecticut can cost $5,000 per year per employee or more.

What about the servers? Over the past few years many office applications have migrated to the Cloud. Office 365 and Google Workspace have supplanted word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software that once resided on local servers at the office. There are Software as a Service offerings for accounting (Quickbooks, Freshbooks), CRM (Salesforce, Hubspot CRM), and a myriad of other applications that run on the Cloud.

The challenge remains for servers that are required for those workloads that are not suitable for the Cloud. Proprietary applications, large frequently accessed databases, and workloads that demand a high degree of security are best kept on local servers. These servers must find a new place to call home now that offices are being shuttered.

Some businesses may be considering moving these servers into the home of one of their employees. It could be the home of an IT manager or a senior executive. Though this may be an expedient solution, it is a poor choice for a variety of reasons that can increase the chance of an outage and/or a security breach. It can also lead to compliance problems.

Electrical power is typically less reliable at a residence than at an office. Though a UPS system can be installed at home and some homes even have their own back-up generators, the odds of losing power are greater at a residence than at an office. This is because there are more trees in residential areas. There are more squirrels too! Trees, squirrels, and other creatures are frequently to blame when power is disrupted.

Servers require certain environmental conditions for optimal performance. Temperature and humidity must be kept within prescribed ranges. Adequate air flow and low levels of dust and other airborne contaminants are essential. Typically, residences are not designed with servers in mind. Whereas rooms can be temperature controlled and humidifiers and air purification systems can be installed, it can be very costly to retrofit a home to create a suitable space for servers.

Internet connectivity at home can also be a problem. Most homes are only served by a limited number of Internet Service Providers. Internet connections to the home are more exposed to disruption than at the office (trees and squirrels again). Though anyone contemplating locating their servers at a residence would certainly want to order an additional internet circuit for business use only, the temptation to use the office internet to watch a game while the family binges on Netflix on the residential internet service could be overpowering.

Which brings up the subject of security. Locating company servers at home undoubtedly increases the risk of a data breach. Blurred lines between company and home networks is one problem. Employees accessing the internet via WiFi at home is risky. Compromised home networks can provide an entry point into corporate systems.

Finally, access for other employees is a big problem when company servers are moved to a home. Family life is stressful enough during the Pandemic. Imagine a visit to your home late at night by fellow employees to work on a server problem. Access to the home would also have to be provided whenever the homeowner went on vacation. This is not a good recipe for family harmony.

Fortunately, there is a far better solution – Colocation. Colocation is where IT systems are placed in a secure, highly redundant, and cost-effective data center that has been purpose-built to host a company’s servers. The CAPS’ data center in Shelton has served all of Connecticut and Westchester County for over 20 years. It is the perfect place for your servers if you close your office.

 

 

 

 

 

School may still be out but Tropical Storm Isaias offered teachable moments as it made a quick but destructive visit to Connecticut. As clean-up continues and power is slowly restored across the state there are several important Business Continuity take-aways.

First, you never can predict the timing and impact of a disaster. Isaias, a mid-summer category 1 hurricane at its peak when it landed in the Carolinas, was much weaker when it passed through Connecticut. Though it spawned several small tornados, the storm’s average maximum wind gusts remained below 70 MPH. The amount of rain was modest too. Yet this storm caused more power outages across Connecticut than Super Storm Sandy which turned off the lights for 687,000 Nutmeg state residents in 2012.

Power outages varied dramatically by neighborhood. A fallen tree up the street can take out dozens of homes and businesses while some lucky neighbors look on from the comfort of their central air-conditioning. The same disparities apply at a higher level to towns and cities. For example, Derby had 5.7% of its residences lose power while its immediate neighbor, Shelton, had 59.2% of its homes cut off from electricity. The performance of the two power companies serving Connecticut also varied dramatically. The morning after the storm United Illuminating had 30% of its customers without power. Eversource had a much bigger problem with 48% of its customers still in the dark.

Isaias also calls into question the wisdom of depending on critical operations from home offices. The wide-scale adoption of Work From Home practices precipitated by COVID-19 has led some companies to consider eliminating their offices completely. Many Connecticut employees were working at home when Isaias struck. The storm not only cut power for many but a number of mobile communications and internet service providers were also disconnected. Even those who were able to create a hot spot with their mobile device to circumvent lost internet access often found performance levels severely degraded due to high usage levels in their neighborhood.

The uncomfortable truth for many companies is their Work From Home employees were unproductive and exposed to increased security risks during the storm. Working from a local Starbucks or a library is better than nothing but not that much better. Some work can be done from these venues but the chances of being overheard or hacked are much greater.

CAPS, the secure data center in Shelton, fared better than most even though Shelton, as noted, suffered widespread power outages. Power to CAPS from United Illuminating was continuous throughout the tempest. The company’s clients were able to operate without interruption. Even if utility power had been lost, the company’s redundant UPS systems backed by redundant diesel generators would have powered clients’ critical IT systems without interruption. CAPS also features redundant internet bandwidth to assure connectivity even if a primary carrier goes down. CAPS is also one of the few data centers in Connecticut that offers secure Business Continuity Alternate Work facilities. Clients can reserve affordable Dedicated or Shared seats where their personnel can work productively when a disaster occurs.

Isaias demonstrated it is extremely hard, if not impossible, to predict when a disaster will strike or the potential impact. Though the storm surprised many in Connecticut, CAPS was able to continue its record of not having had an unscheduled power outage affecting clients for over 20 years. Partnering with an infrastructure services company like CAPS can dramatically increase the odds of avoiding an unexpected but devasting service outage.

As companies plan their return to the office after months away due to the COVID-19 shutdown, many are considering moving their IT systems to a local Colocation facility. They want to allocate as much space as possible in their newly re-configured offices for their employees. If they can free up a room (or even a closet) where the company’s IT systems were housed, this will provide more space for safe social distancing. Many office managers are looking for a suitable home for their IT systems and thus are giving serious consideration to Colocation.

Colocation services are where a company’s IT systems are housed at a purpose-built data center. These facilities are specifically designed to provide a safe and secure environment for servers and related equipment. Redundant power, redundant air conditioning systems and redundant internet circuits along with security systems are all specifically designed to deliver high availability and safety for critical IT systems in a cost-effective manner.

Planning an office redesign to maximize employee space and safety is a challenge due to all the variables that must be considered. If a decision is made to free up space via IT system colocation, what is a realistic estimate of the time it will take for the systems to be up and running at the colocation facility?

Once a client’s unique space, power, and internet bandwidth requirements have been specified a proposal for the colocation services will be provided. The colocation agreement is formalized via a Master Services Agreement (MSA) and a Statement of Work (SOW). Once these documents have been executed the installation can be scheduled. At CAPS, the time required from requirements specification until installation can be as little as a week but typically ranges from two to four weeks.

Installation usually goes very quickly once all systems have been received at the colocation data center. Prior to the installation date, power circuits, PDU’s, and cross connects will be installed and the cabinet or cabinets for the client’s systems will be readied. Firewalls will be configured as necessary. The client will receive initial training regarding the safety and security at the data center and will be provided documentation with procedures to follow and key contacts. Employees from the client organization will be provided security passes to enter the data center. Often, CAPS’ system engineers will assist the client during the installation by providing carts to move equipment and helping resolve any outstanding issues.

Internet bandwidth provisioning can be virtually instantaneous as CAPS has multiple high bandwidth circuits from multiple carriers. This eliminates one of the biggest possible delays to a cut-over. Clients ordering internet circuits directly from a carrier often wait months for an installation. In addition, CAPS is able to provide automatic failover to one of its alternate carriers in case the primary internet circuit becomes non-operational.

Though the actual time it takes to redeploy IT systems to CAPS’ data center will vary depending on a client’s unique requirements, it is safe to say most clients experience elapsed time from start to finish in weeks not months. Please contact CAPS to let us know your requirements and we will be happy to provide you with a schedule you can plan on.

One of the direct consequences of COVID-19 has been a dramatic increase in the number of companies considering moving their offices from New York City to Fairfield County, Connecticut. New York City, which until the pandemic and recent social unrest had been enjoying an economic renaissance, is now facing a decline. Companies are looking for more room to spread out to mitigate the risk of disease and to comply with social distancing mandates. More spacious offices, fewer elevator rides, and less mass transit excursions are important ways to reduce exposure to COVID.

For those new to the neighborhood, an important question will be “Where should our critical IT systems be located?” Establishing a computer room in your new office is one option. However, the move to a new office is often a great time to relocate servers and related IT systems to a more secure, more redundant, and often more cost-effective colocation facility. Also, it makes sense to optimize your new office space for people so they can work productively at a safe social distance. Moving your IT systems to a facility where real estate costs are lower frees up space for your employees and saves money. There are several data centers in Fairfield County that offer colocation services. The best choice will depend on a number of variables which are discussed below.

Companies are contemplating several different approaches. Some plan to vacate their New York City office to set up a new office in Fairfield County. Others are keeping their New York office but will add a suburban satellite office where employees can work at least part time. In this case the goal is to reduce the need to work at the New York City office while allowing for occasional work there. A third option is to eliminate all offices and have employees Work From Home. In this case, if many of the employees live in Connecticut, then there will be a need for a facility to host the company’s computer systems. Hosting critical IT systems at someone’s home is not an acceptable option. A colocation facility that is conveniently located for occasional visits by your IT personnel is best.

Those considering a move to Fairfield County should be aware of the differences between lower Fairfield County and the rest of the region. Towns like Greenwich, Stamford, Darien and Norwalk are close enough to Manhattan to make commuting practical. As a result, the cost of real-estate is significantly higher than other parts of the county. For example, the cost of grade A commercial office space in Shelton can be one third the cost of comparable space in Lower Fairfield County.

Traffic is also a much bigger problem the closer you get to “The City”. Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway in lower Fairfield County experience some of the highest levels of road congestion in the U.S. Traffic on Rte 8 and other secondary highways, especially for those who are “reverse commuting”, is much lower; especially during rush hour.

Fairfield County is served by two different public utilities. Whereas Eversource provides electricity to much of lower Fairfield County and most of the rest of the state, United Illuminating serves the northern and eastern portions of Fairfield County. This can be significant when considering a colocation site. Connecticut is impacted by occasional snowstorms, hurricanes, tornados, and floods. The historical performance of these two utilities has varied considerably so the location of a colocation facility should take this into account. In general, United Illuminating has provided more stable services over the years.

For those companies that will be relocating to Fairfield County from New York City we want to welcome you. We believe you will find Fairfield County will support your company’s growth and prosperity while providing a safer work environment and higher quality of life for your employees. Of course, when you have a chance please stop by CAPS to say hello and to tour our secure data center in Shelton.

More than a year before the COVID-19 Pandemic forced many workers to WFH, this leading management consulting company in Connecticut decided to implement a WFH directive in order to streamline costs. Now that the COVID-19 virus has forced almost all organizations to temporarily close their offices in the midst of social distancing, a WFH solution is becoming the ‘new normal’.

Initially, in examining ways to be more efficient, their Management recognized most of its consultants were working routinely at client sites many days during each week. The cost of maintaining a central office that was not used much of the time was significant. Furthermore, their expensive office space did not have room for expansion, specifically to accommodate new associates joining the firm! Moving to a bigger office would be very expensive and require a lot of effort. This, along with the rapid growth of the firm, required a long-term solution, and after exhausting many alternatives, they ultimately decided to adopt a WFH model. This would provide the flexibility they needed to adapt to their developing customer facing requirements, and it would be more cost effective.

From a technology standpoint, relocating employees to work from their homes was straightforward. These management consultants already had laptops and mobile phones to support their field work, so they had the tools needed for a home office. However, there was one significant challenge to be resolved.

Management struggled with where to locate the company’s servers. Though many of the firm’s workloads had been moved to the Cloud for applications like O365, the firm still had several servers that were required to deliver important proprietary financial and database applications. The management of the firm was not comfortable placing these critical workloads in the Public Cloud because of their stringent security requirements. They also believed the cost of moving some of their larger database applications to the Public Cloud would be much more expensive.

An alternative was to move the servers to the home of one of the senior partners, but this option did not have an environment with the required enterprise quality power, air conditioning, and the necessary security measures. They also required accessibility at any time of the day or night.

They realized they needed to find a colocation partner that could provide:

  • Environmental systems to assure proper temperature and humidity at all times
  • A redundant Power Supply backed up by redundant Air Conditioning, UPS, and Generator systems
  • A purpose-built facility with 24/7/365 secure access and continuous video monitoring
  • Remote Hands services to assist with tasks like rebooting servers when necessary
  • A colocation partner with the flexibility to provide a tailored service including a facility for occasional meetings of some the firms’ employees

The firm considered a number of colocation service providers and selected Blue Hill/CAPS for the following reasons:

  • A stellar record of over 20 years without service disruptions caused by unscheduled power outages
  • SSAE 18 (SOC 1 Type 2) secure data center with 24/7/365 access
  • Cost effective colocation solution
  • Tailored solution including Remote Hands services and use of meeting rooms as needed
  • Assistance procuring an IP based telephone system

In the time since the decision was made to partner with Blue Hill/CAPS, this consulting firm has realized the following benefits:

  • Savings of approximately 50% of the cost of its former operation
  • Improved flexibility and ability to add staff as needed
  • More secure servers with more resiliency, better power, internet capabilities, and environmental controls
  • Many of the recurrent IT infrastructure support tasks are now handled seamlessly
  • An upgraded telephone system saved the firm money and improved functionality

As many organizations employ WFH on a much bigger scale in response to COVID-19, planning ahead and especially contingency planning can have very tangible business benefits in working through this time of great change.