Welcome to the machine

The datacentre has landed – and Middle East enterprises are rolling them out as fast as they can. These projects are probably one of the largest capital outlays a company will make for several decades – so becoming a critical business project, rather than a mere IT deployment. ACN reports on what regional decision-makers need to know.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  July 2, 2007

"Business continuity is very important. If you're a large organisation, even half an hour's downtime can heavily damage your business - and your image. So CEOs are worried - unless they have a proper way of housing and protecting their data, their business is going to be impacted," he adds.

Increasing numbers of top executives in the Middle East are starting to take an interest in their organisation's strategic IT issues - and are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about IT as a result. This varies from industry to industry, but - as Fouz, a former CIO of Mashreqbank, experienced - the level of knowledge can be very high.

"I know how we used to educate the CEO and the rest of the business heads at Mashreqbank to highlight IT issues," says Fouz. "They start asking questions - where is the disaster recovery site, how will the business continue if the main site is down? One day the business group heads came down and asked when we had done the last failover test, for example.

"They never used to ask these things - before they would say ‘I didn't have disaster recovery for the last 20 years - why do I need it now?' From there to asking about specific DR tests - they've come a long way."

The case for the CEO taking a personal interest becomes even more stark when the position of the datacentre within the business is made clear. From a fairly basic server room housing a few racks of equipment, the modern datacentre sits literally at the heart of an organisation.

"Once deployed, a datacentre becomes the core of all businesses, maintaining continuity and availability, but also allowing sustained growth and security of its core asset: information," says Schnabel's Radlinger.

Hot or not?

The major shift in datacentres has been the adoption of widely-accepted standards, giving organisations a defined basis on which to make decisions regarding their needs. Specifically, the system of tiers - ranging from no-redundancy Tier I to ultra-resilient Tier IV - allows enterprises to judge exactly what their requirements are.

"A multinational bank that measures its turnover in millions of dollars an hour will easily justify three or more Tier IV datacentres, as the whole project is likely to represent less than one hour's turnover," explains Elliott. " A small local college or authority will not have the same pressures to remain online 24x7, and so will more likely adopt a lower cost Tier I design."

Underpinning the standards, come a new set of advanced technologies which have increased the efficiency of datacentres dramatically.

"The driving factors behind next-generation datacentres are automation and virtualisation - these are the two major trends we're seeing at the moment," says HP's Chopathar.

Virtualisation - running several ‘virtual' servers on one physical machine - has solved one of the banes of IT managers' lives: poor server utilisation. It might seem a minor issue, but if a server is only being used 40% of the time, this represents a major cost - no factory would be content with 60% dead time.

Virtual machines can run across whole banks of physical servers - effectively making them a pool of processing and storage resources. The bigger the pool, the more efficient it becomes - and the fewer physical servers the business needs overall.

Automation revolves around making IT systems do most of the routine maintenance work themselves - with little or no intervention from human IT staff. While a centralised location is not vital to automate systems effectively, it does simplify the process - and eliminates the need to synchronise operations across multiple sites.

Cool customer

But beyond the pure IT side of things, datacentres have some very real-world issues which need to be tackled. The most critical of these are also apparently the most mundane - heating, power and space.

Critical questions for CEOs

To ensure a successful datacentre project, a CEO needs to be prepared to ask his IT department the right questions - not detailed IT questions, but fundamental, strategic points. This will make sure the IT department builds a datacentre which fits in with the enterprise's long-term business goals.

One issue is who needs to make the decisions on a multi-discipline project such as a datacentre?

"Don't expect IT people to be expert in power supplies and air conditioning," says Barry Elliott, technical consultant at Connectix. "One can't expect facilities managers to be expert in IT either. It takes a separate set of skills to convert the IT requirement into the language that facilities and estates managers are happy with. IT managers should seek specialist help in the exercise to design the best possible workspace for their equipment."

Some additional points which a CEO can raise are:

Is my data available 24x7, and is it secure?

What kind of business continuity plan do you have - even if one application goes down?

Is IT geared up to handle the growth of the business? Have you planned for this growth?

Do we have the capability to make decisions around a merger or acquisition?

How fast is our data growing? What capacity planning processes do you have in place?


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