As data center business cools down, professional services heats up

Carriers aren't the only ones getting out of the data center business. Some solution providers who also dabbled in the data center are also choosing to leave this business up to the large data center operators and cloud providers. Instead, the channel is focusing heavily on professional services to accompany cloud deployments.

Many large service providers and strategic solution providers are realizing data center services -- such as hosting, colocation -- and data center operations isn't their bread and butter. Owning and operating a physical data center and infrastructure is vastly different than selling and supporting networking, cloud, and communication services.

Atrion Networking, a Warwick, R.I.-based IT solution provider, used to offer hosting and colocation services to local clients out of its own data center located at its headquarters. But Atrion left the colocation and hosting business about five years ago, said Darryl Senese, vice president of carrier services for Atrion Networking.

[Related: As Carriers Move Out Of Data Center Business, MSPs Move In]

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"We used to host customer applications for local organizations on a small scale because we had -- and still have -- redundant power in our data center. Now, our data center is just for our own business, and to support the things we need to do on a daily basis for our clients," Senese said.

Just as many service providers are recognizing today, Atrion realized that the data center business wasn't its core competency. Professional services around data center and cloud services, however, was a different story.

Atrion today helps clients with cloud migrations and can manage a customer's cloud environment remotely, or even make visits to the third-party's data center in which applications are being hosted on the customer's behalf.

As large service providers, carriers, and even solution providers move out of the data center space, the professional services market is blossoming because many businesses need the kind of high-touch support that the large cloud providers and data center operators aren't providing, said Andrew Pryfogle, senior vice president of cloud transformation for Intelisys, a Petaluma, Calif.-based master agent.

"Providers are taking the approach with customers, 'OK, we get it, you're going to use AWS for these huge workloads and we understand that, but boy, you're going to need a lot of help to do that correctly and securely,'" Pryfogle said.

Along with colocation and hosting services, Atrion once offered data center design consulting for its clients. The solution provider would help businesses that wanted its own data center, such as banks that had a spare branch office, plot out the infrastructure, cooling, and power requirements it would need.

But as cloud costs have been driven down, many businesses have opted to use a third-party provider's data center than build their own, Atrion's Senese said. Large cloud providers can afford to keep driving down cloud costs because they don't offer professional services – that's where the partner comes in.

Today, Atrion partners with several global and regional data center operators and service providers that own data centers, including St. Louis-based TierPoint and Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Verizon.

"These providers do such a good job of factoring in things that companies like a bank can't, like getting on separate power grids so if one goes down, you're connected to the other. And they have thousands of diesel tanks to power their back-up generators," Senese said. "We came to the realization that we couldn't do any better than that."