As faster network speeds, MPLS networks between data centers, and software-defined technologies proliferate, it becomes easier than ever to host some applications across the country—or even across the world—without any negative impact.
However, for other cloud computing uses, data center location can have major implications when it comes to performance, compliance, and disaster recovery. There are two camps on the issue of data center locations for cloud infrastructure: yes, it matters, and no, it doesn’t make much of a difference.
Latency is the time interval between data being sent and received and is impacted by anything that creates a bottleneck, preventing data from filling or passing through a network connection. This includes simple physics: the further data must travel, the higher the latency, simply due to the travel speed. Data can only move at the speed of light.
The conventional wisdom then is to find a cloud provider that has data centers near your business operations, so latencies are lower and users enjoy access to applications and data without delay.
However, Content Delivery Networks and the speed of modern networks mean latency isn’t as important as it once was. You don’t want a data center on the other side of the globe, but within the same continent, with few exceptions, the location of your cloud hosting is unlikely make a huge difference.
One column points out that small latency discrepancies, like network packet processing times, are too insignificant to be noticeable by regular users of network-based applications. Even an added 1-30 ms is usually negligible.
For financial organizations, location is in fact vital, and milliseconds and even microseconds have become the difference between making thousands of dollars or losing them in modern trading. This can often mean hosting servers in colocation facilities located within fiber exchanges, virtually eliminating latency problems.
For national or global organizations, multi-cloud environments and applications that can burst or spread to different geographically diverse data centers are highly appealing, delivering better performance where and when it is needed. With a multi-cloud deployment, up to 50% of IP prefixes can reduce latency by 20%.
Which leads us to…
A provider that offers data centers in multiple locations, with a shared platform, can make it simple to failover, migrate, or serve workloads from different data centers depending on the use case.
In a disaster recovery situation, that means moving entire critical infrastructure loads over to a different data center in the case of an extended outage event. For essential business applications, the physical location of cloud assets can therefore be very important. Avoiding disaster prone areas or having the option to move workloads is wise.
Larger organizations also might need to serve users in different areas of the country. A cloud spanning several data centers would allow administrators to provide assets and data closer to users. This is sometimes referred to as a “federated cloud”, with most data stored in a central repository and essential assets distributed to the edge of the network.
One of the biggest controversies facing cloud computing in the past couple of years has been privacy, largely due to private cooperation with government surveillance programs as well as many high profile breaches of credit card and private health information.
Companies who deal with sensitive information might face legal issues depending on where their data resides, though, and international organizations have started to be cautious of where they host their data thanks to the NSA.
The laws of the country where your data reside may govern the data itself. This includes data protection laws like the Data Protection Act in the UK or HIPAA in the United States. In India, there are explicit laws allowing the interception, monitoring, and decryption of data residing within the country.
For most United States organizations, the physical location of cloud infrastructure won’t make a huge difference except for disaster recovery, a situation that has other solutions beyond migrating or failing over apps, including local backups and SaaS replacements.
There are many cases, especially with sensitive information, where location can have legal and usability implications. Think carefully about how your applications or data will be used and accessed before choosing a provider, and in general, make sure that you avoid lock-in so you can migrate to another cloud data center if necessary.