With the world mesmerized by new advances like the Internet of Things and cyber-physical systems, it is easy to forget that people, not technology, are the real driving force behind innovation.

Long before we had the cloud, robotics, or software-defined networking, rapid urbanization ignited an innovation explosion by concentrating varied industries, people and ideas into one place. 18th century London became the center for commerce and creativity because the city was a rich mix of different outlooks, skills and approaches. As the number of people, businesses and opportunities in London boomed, the city attracted even more talent and investment, creating a gravity well of exponential innovation.

In London today, I see colocation data centers as ‘digital cities,’ which have become a focal point for 21st century innovation. By uniting diverse digital business in a common marketplace, colocation enables innovative people to capitalize on skyrocketing data creation and connectivity.

Customer communities are emerging around these shared challenges, as the sheer ‘gravity’ of dense data, connectivity and human expertise draws companies towards the center.

London Bridge, circa 1870
London Bridge, circa 1870 – Wikimedia Commons / Cornell University Library

With a myriad of different businesses linked together inside a single facility, colocation lets organizations develop new ideas more easily and quickly. For the price of an optical fiber cross-connect, businesses can share data, capabilities and services with a ready-formed hub of potential suppliers, partners and customers.

Colocation creates a rich marketplace platform where we can do what we all love to do: innovate. Data centers are not simply somewhere to store your IT kit or your data; they rely on trusted human relationships to map out strategies that can flex and adapt with our rapidly changing world.

Inside the data center, access to the right people is just as important as access to the right technologies. Automation is on the rise, but skilled, clever staff remain central to a high-quality experience.

With more than 60 percent of data center operators concerned about a lack of suitably qualified people, colocating in urban areas provides access to scarce skills. Out-of-town colocation can offer upfront cost-savings, but can also sever vital relationships.

In an increasingly global world, intellectual gold is still being mined in city coffee shops and restaurants, just as it was in the 18th century. Even if the robots start to take over, innovation will still be driven by clever disruptive minds gathered at the center, not the periphery. While data centers provide us with a technical platform, it pays to remember that the data center has a human heart.

Andrew Fray is managing director of London-based colocation provider Interxion.

This opinion originally appeared in May / June edition of the DCD Magazine.