Building owners and managers have long been accustomed to the idea that their facilities required extensive IT infrastructure in order to accommodate tenants in the Information Age. As cloud computing emerges as a new force on the IT scene, a primary appeal for business owners is the much-reduced need for internal IT capacity, since so many of the resources that have been stored in-house under traditional systems can now reside in the cloud - to be accessed as needed. How does that affect the requirements of building management to maintain the wiring, fibers, and connections that keep information flowing within their tenants' offices?
In October, Sterling, Virginia-based CoR Advisors conducted a webinar designed to shed some light on that subject. The consensus that emerged from the discussion was capacity will remain an issue, but the nature of tenants' requirements will change. As the need for massive internal IT infrastructure gives way to cloud-driven priorities, high-speed broadband capacity is expected to be the essential need for tenants over the course of the coming decade.
Need for Scalable Infrastructure
On the surface, one might wonder if there's much need for infrastructure at all where the cloud is concerned. After all, it's simply a matter of accessing resources online instead of storing them in internal servers. The problem, though, is that full-scale cloud users are accessing a lot more data that your average person on a laptop who's browsing with Mozilla and receiving e-mails.
"Without getting into bits and bytes, you could consider it - from an illustration perspective - the difference between a sidewalk and a multi-lane highway," says Thomas Sweeney, senior director of Enterprise Sales Support, Business Class, at Comcast. "[Browsing web sites and using e-mail] aren't particularly bandwidth-intensive applications, so your traditional broadband or your traditional T1 is enough to handle that. But as customers are doing things like managing their SAP platforms for all their internal management systems, that's going to require a much bigger pipe that also requires scalability."
Sweeney's division at Comcast is aggressively pursuing opportunities to enter buildings and wire them for the type of broadband coverage that can handle the higher traffic necessitated by the expected growth of cloud usage. Comcast believes Ethernet systems offer a better option for building owners and managers to achieve the kind of capacity cloud usage will require.
"You could utilize the legacy services, but it may cost you additional dollars or capital to allow your system to do it," Sweeney explains. "To add additional circuits, there are some time differences in getting those systems in and up and running. If you compare Ethernet data services to the traditional legacy-type services that are out there, Ethernet services are much more flexible and manageable, and certainly give you the ability to procure additional bandwidth."
It's the Telecom Company's Job
According to webinar participant Mike Pepper, managing director at the Beverly Hills-based real estate investment firm Kennedy Wilson, building owners and managers have learned not to jump too quickly on things they're told they must do to facilitate the latest chapter of the Information Age. Early in the emergence of the Internet, Pepper recalls, landlords bought into the idea that they needed to be onsite telecom providers.
"I remember the craze in the late `90s, when we were bombarded by all these groups," Pepper says. "We wasted a lot of time as landlords, in my opinion, trying to manage and control a very squishy product. Look at all the telecom companies that only did telecom and that went out of business."
As the needs of tenants evolve to focus more on simple broadband capacity - albeit, lots more of it than has been typical up until now - Pepper says landlords are glad to return their focus to their core task.
"Eventually we decided that, as landlords, real estate was hard enough," Pepper notes. "We weren't going to try to be landlords and phone company substitutes. In today's real estate market, with vacancies between 15 and 20 percent, I've got enough worries trying to manage my business. If I'm trying to manage telecom, which is not my core business, I think I'm asking for trouble."
Brian Mann, managing partner of Indianapolis-based developer Mann Properties, says landlords have long since soured on the idea that they could make money providing telecom services.
"We haven't considered it revenue for a while," Mann says. "Ten years ago, there were people trying to vie for your business and they tried to sell it as a source of revenue for you. We tried to pursue it but it didn't seem like our portfolio or any particular property was big enough to be worth the hassle."
Today, Mann is content to focus on the priority of maximum bandwidth availability, although he admits he is not entirely sure how his tenants use what he provides.
Letting a larger telecom firm simply wire the building for broadband is much simpler for building owners and managers than trying to provide and manage telecom. But according to Sweeney, Comcast occasionally has work to do in making building managers understand they are not going to have their buildings and grounds torn apart when the infrastructure is installed for an Ethernet system.
"A lot of times, managers have a preconceived notion that fiber installers are going to come in here, drill holes in the tel-tel room or ceiling, and dig up the parking lot," Sweeney says. "Really, after they work with us and they understand what's involved in the project and the care we will take not to disrupt business for them or the tenants, you see those types of concerns mitigated."
According to Darlene Pope, president and CEO of CoR Advisors, the movement in commercial buildings is primarily toward a single IP-based structure for commercial buildings, with everything being run over a high-speed broadband network. Once these structures are in place on a broad basis, and cloud usage is widely embraced, the resulting drop in energy usage from data centers is expected to be as high as 30 percent.
A Comcast survey indicates that an overwhelming majority of
commercial building tenants - 95 percent - consider advanced communication services important, very important, or extremely important in their choice of a facility. The survey indicates there is no category of tenant in which that number is lower than 82 percent.
But just because everyone recognizes what's coming, that doesn't mean everyone is there. Mann acknowledges that even his own company hasn't yet made the switch.
"We're still operating under a server-oriented system here in our office, and I can see how we would save a lot of consulting fees if we were not doing it that way," Mann says.
Pepper agrees large-scale change has yet to happen because the cloud story is still at a very early stage.
"I don't see a huge number of tenants requiring an abnormally high amount of bandwidth, but they want enough," Pepper notes. "That generally has migrated from the T1 to the 10- or 20-megabit pipe. But not every tenant that comes into my door says, `I need 100.' And not everyone says, `We're migrating to the cloud.'"
In fact, not even every company in the cloud industry is entirely migrating to the cloud - at least not yet.
"The trend of moving to the cloud is real, but it's also in its infancy," according to Pepper. "One of the tenants in my building is in the business of selling cloud servers to other companies, and ironically, we spent a lot of time with them when they moved in, building out their server room. I don't know if they're selling space on that server to their customers yet. I don't think so. But I thought it was weird."