Data Center Infrastructure

Data Centers Still Critical to CenturyLink

Even as CenturyLink contemplates strategic changes in how it operates its data centers -- including outsourcing their operation completely -- the carrier continues to expand those facilities and to press for an unprecedented level of certification of its operations. (See Verizon Enterprise Sale Would Signal Big Shift.)

In a semi-annual review of its data center operations released this month, CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) reported adding 14 megawatts of critical capacity at eight of its existing data centers and said it will further increase capacity in four of those in the first half of this year. That brings its total to 2.62 million square feet of "gross raised floor space" in data centers on three continents: North America, Europe and Asia-Pac.

Most of the expansion is being driven by colocation, where enterprise customers wish to locate their gear at CenturyLink facilities, says Chip Freund, director of Infrastructure Product Marketing. That kind of deployment takes up more data center space than shared facilities used for CenturyLink's cloud and managed/hosted services business because the equipment is dedicated to a single customer and often locally situated to serve that customer.

As enterprises grow more comfortable with actually moving applications into the cloud, the expectation is that more are using hybrid options, combining public and private cloud access with their own co-located servers. CenturyLink is able to deliver those hybrid options today, says Freund, combining data center colocation, managed hosting and cloud services and network connections.

In addition to funding expansion, CenturyLink is making a unique effort to enable its entire fleet of data centers -- 40 globally -- to meet the Uptime Institute's certification for Management and Operations. Already 30 of CenturyLink's data centers have earned the M&O Stamp of Approval, the most recent being those in Singapore and Toronto. Separately, facilities in Chicago and Toronto received Tier III silver certification from the Uptime Institute.

Learn more about data center transformation at our upcoming Big Communications Event in Austin, TX, May 24-25. You can register now.

The two different recognitions acknowledge the way a data center is designed and built (tier level) and the way it is operated (M&O Stamp).

"What their research has shown over the decades is that 70% of data center outages are caused by human error," Freund explains. "No matter how resilient you designed and built a facility, you could still have outages if you are not staffing, running and managing it in an optimal fashion."

The M&O Stamp of Approval certification looks at the people, processes and methodologies used to run data centers. In 2014, CenturyLink committed to having its data centers earn that stamp and is well on its way to doing that across the board. The carrier does dominate the list, which you can find here.

The investment in expansion and certification is happening separately from CenturyLink's review of its strategic alternatives for operating its data centers, which includes the possibility of selling the centers themselves to outsource their operations. Such a sale would not impact CenturyLink's colocation, managed and hosted services or cloud services business, Freund notes.

"Because CenturyLink sees the data centers as so critical, it is continuing to invest in the data centers in terms of adding capacity to meet customer demand and to invest in the certification program of the operations staff and processes," he comments. Even if the company chooses the option of outsourcing its data centers, it will continue to invest in making sure the capacity and the people and processes meet the needs of CenturyLink's customers, he says.

The customers themselves seem to understand that, Freund comments. CenturyLink was prepared for a sales dip after news coverage of the potential sale, but that hasn't happened. "Our sales funnel is full," he says. "We continue to have business as usual in terms of our sales."

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

inkstainedwretch 3/25/2016 | 1:35:20 PM
Centurylink at OFC

Bill Walker, CenturyLink's Director, Network Architecture and Innovation, in Anaheim at OFC (Optical Fiber Conference) earlier this week, was very bullish on the company's data center strategy. The company sees its data center infrastructure as a key element of its migration from a telco to a global communications company (Walker said the company has 55 facilities located around the world).

He was extremely enthusiastic about SDN and NFV as enablers of Centurylink's transformation, but went on to note that SDN is only a first step.

"SDN is a great start, it's a great first step, but it's just forwarding and routing, and that's not good enough. We need a model of the network."

The company needs to know not only what network elements it has in its own network, he explained, but also what elements are available through partner/competitors such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, so when a Centurylink customer orders a service, Centurylink's network will be able to know whether or not it can provide that service, and if it can, how.

And when a customer orders a service, the customer should be able to order in business language without having to be conversant in the technical details and specifications of MPLS.

--Brian Santo


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