The changing role of data centres

2 Mar 2005

At the height of the dotcom boom around the turn of the millennium it seemed like Ireland was actually going to deliver on the vision of becoming the e-commerce hub of Europe. One of the key signs that this wasn’t just the figment of some government speech writer’s imagination was the number of tier 1 data centres being built around Dublin.

These data centres provide top-of-the-line facilities for data that needs to be available 24/7 or is extremely valuable to the owner. In the dotcom boom these high-tech highly secure centres were set up to support e-commerce services that required multiple internet connections, top-of-the-line physical and network security, as well as rock-solid physical premises. Not the kind of facility you would expect to be providing services to small businesses, but that’s exactly what has happened since the shake out of the dotcom boom.

“It’s fair to say that most of the established data centres in Ireland are comparable in terms of robustness and reliability of the actual environments, as several hundred millions of euro were spent in the in the design and build of these facilities,” says David Bates, sales manager for ICT solutions with Esat BT. “This exuberant spending spree by the industry prior to the dotcom bubble burst is well documented, but it did result in an excellent fleet of data centres now offering services in Ireland with an extraordinarily high level of engineering specification.”

Many of these centres are now offering tailored-managed services that are ideal for SMEs that do not want to invest in expensive IT resources themselves. According to Jason O’Conaill, sales and marketing manager with Interxion Ireland, SMEs look to data centres for “services that were not obvious when we started”. These include things such as remote back up and restore, a pressing issue thanks to the requirements of the Data Protection (Amendment) Act, 2003, and a complete managed service.

While these are the same services available to the big corporates, the difference is that Interxion and other providers price them at SME levels. For example, with its back up and restore service customers only pay for the amount of encrypted storage they use and are not charged for restoring that data.

“Every month we give them a report of what’s on their vault,” says O’Conaill. “We offer common file elimination so that if there’s four versions of an Excel file on your network, only one file is saved, even if they all have different names. If there’s very small changes between them we back up all versions but there’s no extra charge.”

With an IT network supporting 45 users Mitsubishi Electric Ireland is typical of the type of mid-sized Irish company taking advantage of the new breed of data centre services. It used to have its own IT department consisting of two full-time staff and a contractor, as well as a third-party maintenance contract. Now it has outsourced all its IT infrastructure to Data Electronics that provides 24×7 support for its desktops, laptops, printers, network and all other hardware and software. It’s email, file, print and application servers are hosted by Data Electronics in its data centre, which Mitsubishi connects to via a 100Mbps leased line, which is backed up by an ISDN line for redundancy and resilience. Under the terms of the contract, Data Electronics guarantees 100pc network availability, internet connectivity and availability of its server environment.

“It is 100pc easier to deliver this kind of service now — we just couldn’t have done this three or four years ago,” says Maurice Mortell, CEO of Data Electronics. “The deregulation of the telecoms market, competition and the wide availability of broadband have commoditised telco products that make it viable to provide leased-line connectivity to the data centre for SMEs.”

So with so many companies competing for your business, how should you evaluate them?

Mortell believes that the fallout from the massive investment of the late Nineties has now dissipated and what remains is a robust set of providers. “If you’re looking purely for space that’s a very commoditised market and we wouldn’t be advocating that for SMEs,” says Mortell. “We push the vale of the capabilities we have around the facility.”

“Obviously price should always be a consideration but the track record and financial stability of the supplier should also rank high on the list,” says Bates. “Any application deployment by SMEs in a data centre is likely to be strategic and therefore they must satisfy themselves that their partner has the people, technologies, processes and financial stability to ensure that they cannot only deliver what they say they will, but will be around for the duration of the contract term and beyond.”

By John Collins