Data centre choice demands diligence
A Google technician working in the company's Dalles, Oregon data center.
Australian businesses have never had this much choice in third-party data centre options. But greater choice doesn't always mean easier decisions.
Over the past three years more than $1 billion has been invested by telcos, IT vendors, service providers and pure-play data centre operators in new facilities across Australia to address a perceived market gap in high-quality space to cater to an explosion of data.
This has been complemented by a rapid rollout of cloud computing services, most recently by Rackspace and IBM, with persistent rumours of a launch of a full portfolio of services from the cloud giant, Amazon.
- Virtual space opens up as data centres feel the squeeze
- Clouds gather in the west as data demand heats up
- High demand for data centres
- Dell bets on pre-packaged data centres
IDC research shows that on average 36 per cent of technology infrastructure (servers, storage and networking gear) owned by Australian organisations are already located in a third-party data centre. IDC predicts 37 per cent of organisations will increase that ratio in the next two years. But the statistics suggest most organisations are likely to have a hybrid data centre strategy - some applications in the cloud, some in an in-house facility and some in a third-party data centre managed internally or by a service provider.
"The question most regularly asked, and this is how we train our staff, is what is it that the IT team have to do to demonstrate to the board and chief executive officer that using a data centre provider is a better choice?" says Craig Scroggie, chief executive of ASX-listed data centre operator NEXTDC.
Evaluating a data centre provider should include: risk, cost, availability of network providers, level of flexibility to change IT service providers without changing data centres, and access to analytical tools to see what is happening in the facility in real time, Scroggie says.
There are other elements to consider such as: security accreditations; proximity to clients and the company; use of free air cooling or renewable energy; business continuity and disaster recovery; and other services.
Scalability is another characteristic noted by Fujitsu's general manager of data centre services, Michael Gunton.
"Modern data centre design has emphasised the need for scalable modular approach to design, deployment and operations," he says. "With the cost of electricity emerging as the highest component of the data centre operations, modern facilities are offering much lower PUE [power usage effectiveness], which results in lower operating costs of the facility compared to older facilities."
The PUE metric, created by industry group The Green Grid several years ago, is one way used to promote their efficiency. While The Green Grid does not recommend using PUE to compare data centres - as there are many additional factors that need to be considered, such as location, size, age, floor space utilisation - the metric has become an industry standard.
The closer a PUE score is to 1, the more efficient and effective the facility is at using power.
While The Green Grid provides certifications for PUE scores, few data centre operators apply for official recognition, leaving PUE many claims open to challenges.
The same lack of official certification is true of the use of the Uptime Institute's data centre four-tier ranking system. Here the higher the tier, the higher the facility's availability and redundancy.
Many data centre providers say they provide a "tier 3" and above service level, but locally only three facilities have the official accreditation: Metronode's MELB-2 data centre in Victoria; Digital Realty's Mel 10 data centre also in Victoria; and Macquarie's Intellicentre 2 in Sydney. Globally there have been only 149 certifications given in 30 countries. A point IBRS adviser James Turner says organisations should consider.
"If they haven't been certified then they are not at that level. We as an industry have to be rigorous around this one. I can't go around saying I'm the equivalent of an MBA. If you haven't got the MBA, you're not an MBA," Turner says.
"With third-party data centres there is definitely an argument to be made in terms of greenness, efficiency and improved capabilities. But just because someone claims it, it doesn't necessarily make it so. This is where you have to do your background research."