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We are planning to set up a complete ERP and CRM system for a medium-sized global company, that might turn into a essential tool for all locations once deployed. For now these locations include USA, Germany, China and Indonesia, but the list is growing quickly.

My question is, where it is best to physically locate the server to ensure the access times are optimal from all (future) locations?

On my mind, I am dealing with multiple connected servers (a cloud?), where each of our users is served by the physically closest server. Being in a very competitive field we would also like to rule out, that any data is stored in mainland China...

Thanks for any advice and pointers!

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This depends entirely on your application's architecture as well as the client's organizational structure and ERP/CRM needs. It may be appropriate to use a single hosting site with CDN for static content, or it may be appropriate to have a handful of completely independent applications, or it may be appropriate to have something in-between using database replication to synchronize the different locations, or some other system architecture. –  Lèse majesté Jan 30 '12 at 16:32
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For most applications, I don't really think it's that important. Unless you do some real time data intensive stuff, most people won't notice the ping delay.

However if it's important to you, yes you can rent a server in each region you cover and use DNS to use the closest server.

There are also companies that offer CDN (Content Delivery Network) services such as Akamai (http://www.akamai.com/), Amazon CloudFront (http://aws.amazon.com/cloudfront/), or the recently announce Google PageSpeed Service (http://code.google.com/speed/pss/).

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CDN services is exactly what should be used to provide optimal access times. Anywhere across the globe should be fine so long the pipe is big enough and you the backbone connected to a low latency network. Probably best choice for now will be where you have the max user base. –  Cold T Jan 4 '12 at 15:01
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