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Is the virtual data centre tour here to stay?

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Aruba Enterprise' Massimo Bandinelli, weighs up the pros and cons of virtual and in-person data centre tours, during and post-pandemic

Over the last 16 months, the data centre industry has experienced an unprecedented uptick in demand for its services. The pandemic saw many CIOs move workloads away from on-premises servers to public cloud services. Even businesses who were dragging their feet on cloud migration were forced to act quickly to support a distributed workforce. The boom in demand for cloud shows no signs of slowing down. Gartner predicts that, worldwide, end-user spending on public cloud services is forecast to grow by 23.1% in 2021 to total US$332.3 billion.

This raises the question – as global restrictions on movement continue, how can data centre providers best differentiate themselves from the competition as they showcase their services to an influx of new potential customers?

Touring the data centre without leaving your home

Virtual data centre tours have been around for some time but became ubiquitous during the pandemic. As we grow used to the convenience of doing business remotely, are they here to stay?

Perhaps the biggest upside of going virtual is that data centre providers can showcase campuses to non-local companies, for whom an in-person visit would be difficult due to distance or expense. Whether they’re based in Mexico City, Manila or Milan, a virtual data centre tour allows participants to conveniently experience a campus, without travelling thousands of miles and spending days apart from their families.

Virtual data centre tours also have several user experience advantages – if video, graphics and narration are used effectively, a virtual tour can leave participants feeling more informed than a physical alternative. At Aruba, we find it much easier to communicate the complex features of our Global Cloud Data Center Campus virtually, like the six security levels and seven control perimeters. Plus, through animation, it’s possible to show visitors how the campus was constructed step-by-step, giving them an idea of the huge amount of labour it takes to build a world-leading data centre.

It’s also worth noting that, as virtual reality technology becomes increasingly widespread, we’re likely to see more sophisticated, immersive virtual data centre tour experiences emerging in future.

Long live the physical data centre tour

No matter how well-executed a virtual data centre tour is, there’s one part of physical tours that can’t be replaced – the human element. Speaking with visitors face-to-face is a crucial part of building trust and maintaining long-term relationships with prospects and clients. Plus, some people learn better through seeing and doing. For them, experiencing features in-person is unbeatable.

Physical tours also enable visitors to understand the sheer scale of data centre campuses. For instance, Aruba’s Global Cloud Data Center covers an area of 200,000m2. This is very hard to accurately capture in a video, or even in a virtual reality environment.

With this in mind, it’s clear that the era of in-person data centre tours is not over. As with many other aspects of our lives, the physical and the virtual worlds will co-exist as normality begins to return – although it will be interesting to see whether pent-up demand for social interaction translates into a spike in requests for physical tours. Going forward, savvy data centre providers will continue investing in both in-person and virtual experiences to help them secure new business, satisfy existing clients, and educate wider audiences.