Joining the services fray

Etisalat reinforces services strategy with beefed up IP Data Centre

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By  Greg Wilson Published  April 2, 2002

I|~||~||~|Etisalat is making a play to corner the region’s fledgling hosting and managed services market. The UAE’s PTT intends to leverage its near complete Internet Data Centre infrastructure to support its subsidiary business units — Comtrust and Emirates Internet & Multimedia (EIM) — as they attempt to market and sell a number of co-location, dedicated-server hosting and managed security/network services to customers throughout the Gulf.

Although no cost information was available on the size of Etisalat’s investment, the dual data centre infrastructure — with one site in Abu Dhabi and another in Dubai — has been designed to offer maximum security, redundancy and availability.

“The main objective we had was to come up with a facility that would serve our business units to the extreme — in terms of availability, security [and] business expansion,” explains Nasser Salim, senior manager Internet & E-solutions, Etisalat.

“We wanted to go after the teleco model — if a customer asks for a telephone line, we want to provide it in 24 hours. We want to guarantee this kind of service for our business users and make sure that they can have that service immediately,” he adds.

The revamped infrastructure is already being used to host existing EIM and Comtrust customers. The multi-vendor Internet Data Centre will also host all the PTT’s IP-based applications, such as GPRS. The IP services “are a core facility of the data centre. In the future any IP services from Etisalat will leverage on the infrastructure of the data centre,” says Salim.

“Etisalat looks at its data centre as a strategic [investment]. This is not only a sophisticated centre for the customer to host their services, but for all our IP services. We are going to see a lot of services from Etisalat in the future and they are going to be housed in the data centre,” Salim adds.

As part of the Internet Data Centre, Etisalat has also created localised network operations centres (NOC) and secure operations centres (SOC) in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. According to Salim, a number of Etisalat’s corporate customers are already utilising these services.

Both the Dubai and Abu Dhabi sites have been situated directly over transmission hubs, enabling the centres to scale bandwidth capacity rapidly. Currently, there are 16 STM 1s connecting the two data centres. “We’re not using 10% of this bandwidth yet,” says Salim.

However, this could all change if the widely predicted boom in managed services occurs. Over recent months, competition in the local managed services industry has intensified. Also during March, IBM and Dubai Internet City (DIC) officially unveiled their joint venture E-hosting centre. The DIC-based data centre has already won customers from the local market for its range of services, which includes everything from Internet application hosting to full infrastructure outsourcing.
Also, towards the end of last year, Jordan Telecom (JTC) unveiled plans to pitch co-location and other data centre services to local companies.

“The local market is definitely laying the foundations to use these services in the future. It is the direction that the market is heading towards,” says Sanjeet Dabral, regional manager, IDC Middle East. “We can’t say how quickly this market is going to mature, but there is a lot of opportunity here,” he adds.

||**||II|~||~||~|The growing cost and complexity of infrastructure, compounded by the pressure of finding skilled human resources in the local market is thought to be driving the local managed services market. However, case studies and growing publicity for managed services should help local companies overcome their initial resistance to outsource certain IT services, comments Dabral. “As publicity increases the cost benefits will be clearer… Users are being convinced of the practical benefits,” he adds,
Initially, both Comtrust and EIM have to convince many companies of the value of hosting services in the UAE. Historically, many local businesses have preferred to host their web sites in the US, citing greater cost benefits, reliability and accelerated performance.

However, Etisalat is aiming to win customers back to the region with its mixture of
facilities, services and cost benefits. According to Farooq Hasan, marketing manager, Comtrust, the local market’s attitude to the hosting market has matured considerably in the last 12 to 18 months. “[Companies] are coming back to the region to host their services,” says Hasan.

“There is a major difference in customers’ understanding of what hosted services are… There is a definite understanding of security policies and the need to [manage these relationships],” he explains.

EIM’s local general manager Maroua Naim, is convinced that the PTT’s ability to host
data locally offers a degree of comfort that isn’t available from hosting partners based in the US or Europe. “If a company hosts with a US site, they don’t know where their data is, but with us they will know the status of their data all the time,” she adds.

However, to maximise the return on investment (ROI), Etisalat is going to have to effectively sell its services to the whole Gulf market. Although Comtrust has a pan-Gulf remit, it has only met with moderate success when selling its PKI-based security services outside of the UAE. Also Comtrust has only managed win two customers for its Sage- based application service providing (ASP) offering.

However, with the Internet Data Centre infrastructure and two and a half years of experience under its belt, Comtrust is going to be able to offer better support and better services to “go to the market with,” Hasan adds.

According to Naim, there are further service innovations due for delivery in the coming months that will help Etisalat as it attempts to build its regional business. However, greater detail about the delivery of such services and plans to build its pan-Gulf business are currently still under wraps.

Key to winning more business is going to be Etisalat’s services level agreements (SLAs). Although SLAs will vary depending on the business unit and the specific services, it is up to the Internet Data Centre to ensure the requirements of SLAs are met. Currently, the entire environment is managed through the service assurance layer, which itself is composed of multiple tools from the likes of HP and MicroMuse.

“This is more than network management. This is service assurance, so we look at everything in the environment,” says Salim.

“We’re planning on building a portal to extend some of these monitoring services to our customers... They will know the exact state of the data centre all the time,” he adds.||**||

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