How Colocation Benefits IoT, 5G, and Hybrid Computing

How colocation enables IoT
Figure: © IoT for everyone

Just like the universe, the Internet of Things (IoT) is expanding every day. By 2025, an estimated 22 billion devices will be connected to the internet. And all these new devices, sensors and computers will generate, process and share a lot of data. This massive amount of IoT data requires fast processing and a lot of storage space and colocation. Edge data centers are critical backbone infrastructures that will help support the IoT revolution. Data pools are becoming data lakes and oceans, and data centers need to process, analyze and store all IoT sensor data.

What is colocation?

Using colocation is like renting an apartment for data. A colocation facility leases space, power, cooling, networking, and security to many customers simultaneously, while each customer brings their own “furniture” such as IT equipment and servers. Over the past decade, colocation has evolved from a convenient option for companies to store data off-site before investing in building their own data centers to a more robust and beneficial solution for on-premises data centers. The proliferation of colocation facilities is a powerful driver of IoT growth, as colocation can provide reliable availability, low-latency connections, cloud-on-ramps to connect multi-cloud environments, and on-demand scalability.

Colocation for closer connections

In many IoT applications, speed is the name of the game, and transferring data quickly depends on two main factors:

  1. The bandwidth between an IoT device and the network
  2. The proximity of the device to this network

Take self-driving cars, for example. In San Francisco, several driverless vehicle companies have turned to colocation to test their technology on the streets of this urban hub. The IoT data stream can quickly become a deluge of millions of sensors and live processing requests firing into every car.

In nearby Sunnyvale, a colocation data center acts as a high-volume hub for driverless car sensor data that can be safely processed to inform the controllers of all other driverless cars in the same area. IoT sensors gather speed and direction data using GPS, vectors, and maps, as these and other data points influence driverless car decision-making. Each of these deterministic processes must be checked, analyzed and processed by software – all this happens in real time, with the vehicle reporting back to the data center.

Suppose self-driving vehicles will one day populate the streets everywhere. In this case, they need access to data centers with tight connections and high-throughput circuits to process all the data they generate. After all, driving requires split-second decisions, and that translates into ultra-low latency data transfer. Colocation data centers are widely distributed, allowing driverless cars to always have a fast and close connection to other relevant IoT devices in a geographic area, much like cell phones connect to nearby towers while driving.

5G network for speed

While proximity increases the speed at which IoT data is shared, the advent of a 5G communications network makes the speed equation even more relevant. The fastest 5G networks are expected to transfer data at least ten times faster than 4G LTE. Some experts believe 5G could potentially run 100 times faster. Many IoT devices connect directly to the public cloud, send their sensor data there and receive the communication back. However, problems arise when so many devices – potentially tens of billions in just a few years – are all transmitting data over high-speed 5G networks. Data congestion can slow down IoT connectivity like a traffic jam on a multi-lane freeway.

Hybrid computing drives IoT data

Researchers have studied the benefits of moving cloud connectivity closer to the ground where IoT devices reside. Critical, speed-sensitive data functions occur close to the device or in a nearby data center, and subsequent data is routed to the cloud as needed, either directly or via direct colocation cloud connections. This hybrid computing method is often referred to as fog or edge computing.

Colocation data centers support fog computing by providing many points of inexpensive storage and secure protection for IoT data with an additional layer of connectivity to the cloud. Because colocation customers run their own hardware in the remote data centers, they have full control over the privacy of their IoT device network and development test environment. IoT devices connected directly to public cloud infrastructure face worrying security breaches, so security experts recommend restricting access to IoT devices to a private network. In a smart home, having all the lightbulbs, fridge and thermostat connected via a public cloud is comparable to leaving the front door unlocked in terms of ease for a hacker.

Prepare for rapid IoT growth

With IoT devices proliferating so rapidly, there is a growing need to rapidly scale data infrastructure to accommodate significantly higher volumes. Businesses adopting IoT technology are poised to become more profitable as the number of connected devices and their critical functions become a larger part of our commerce and lifestyle, but they also risk becoming victims of their own success if they don’t act fast respond to growth.

Colocation brings speed and security advantages to the IoT and also enables IoT data networks to expand rapidly by allocating more bandwidth, power and space in a short period of time. Market researchers predict that the market for colocation data centers will grow exponentially by more than 7 percent in each of the next five years. That would take the colocation market to nearly $50 billion by 2027. The driving force behind this growth is the expanding IoT universe. As we more and more connect to each other and to the world around us through IoT devices, the need for colocation capacity to process all the data that underpins all IoT interactions will increase.