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Managing small data centres

Contacts: A short guide to running secure and resilient data centres for
mid-sized businesses
Bob Tarzey
Quocirca Ltd
Tel +44 1753 855794 A sound IT infrastructure is fundamental to today’s businesses and when that infrastructure fails the consequences can be far reaching. Whether it is business-to-
Clive Longbottom business, business-to-consumer or public sector organisations serving citizens,
Quocirca Ltd applications and the services they drive increasingly need to be available all day,
Tel +44 118 948 3360 every day. Many organisations find it hard to achieve such service levels. This
briefing looks at some possible solutions

• To remain competitive and grow, businesses need to be responsive to the

needs of their customers and seek new markets
Customers, whether businesses or consumers, have come to expect continuously
available services from suppliers. In turn suppliers aspire to serve broader
geographic markets
• The ability to provide continuously available services is under-pinned by IT
This briefing has been applications that today are critical to many businesses operations
written by Quocirca to If these applications become unavailable through poor management or
address issues faced by
medium sized businesses as component failure, or if data is lost or compromised, the business suffers and
they become more and customer loyalty is impacted and reputation damaged
more reliant on IT.
• For many mid-sized businesses (typically those from 200 to 2,000
The report draws on
Quocirca’s knowledge of employees) this can be a huge challenge
the technology and Managing IT is not their core competence, getting sufficient expertise in-house
business issues faced by is hard and expensive and building enterprise class data centres is impractical
organisations in this area
and provide advice on the
approaches that can be
• But it can be affordable. 3rd parties can offer enterprise class data centre
taken to create secure and facilities
robust data centres that Such facilities have physical security levels beyond those of most enterprises,
enable future growth.
they have robust defences against fire, flood and other disasters, backup power
During the preparation of supplies, they are adjacent to internet backbones and the extra security of a
this report, Quocirca has backup failover system is possible through the use of more than one location
spoken to a number of end
users, service providers
and vendors and is grateful
• However, if a poorly managed sound data centre facility is not enough, in-
for their time and insights. house or outsourced, good IT management is a fundamental requirement
This includes mundane tasks like asset management, backup and recovery, as
Quocirca would like to
thank Symantec for its well as the ability to minimise and cope with emergencies such as security alerts
sponsorship of this report. or disk crashes
• To help with this, many mid-sized businesses are turning to managed
service providers (MSPs)
Through economies of scale MSPs can invest in enterprise class management
tools and expertise to make sure the business applications they rely on to serve
their customers remain available, all day every day

An independent briefing by Quocirca Ltd.
Managing small data centres Page 2

The all day every day economy This briefing looks at the data centre challenge for
mid-market organisations (those with a few
It is 40 years ago this month

hundred to a few thousand employees) and how
that Reg Varney (a one-time
they can achieve enterprise level IT availability
British comedy actor)
and compete effectively in a 24*7 global market
demonstrated the first ever
cash withdrawal from an
ATM in Enfield, North London. This new The mid-market data centre challenge
technology would give the bank’s customers
For any organisation it is not
access to their cash whenever they wanted it, but
one single application that
more importantly to the banks, it would free up
drives its business processes
their staff to focus on transactions more profitable
but a combination of many
than dishing out cash – such as providing loans or
interconnected applications,
investment advice – i.e. banks would be more
some old some new. An
productive. Good for all – unless the technology
increasing number of these are
enabling the new service failed.
now considered business critical.
ATMs are an early example of technology
Fifteen years ago many businesses would not
enabling a business to transact with its customers
have used email much, for those that did it would
more flexibly. In the last fifteen years or so that
have been for internal communications. Now
opportunity has opened up for almost every
email is the most widely used business
business, be it for transacting directly with
communications tool, and an email system put in
consumers or with other businesses. The
place 10 years ago may now have also become a
communications technology that has enabled this
critical business tool, for example as a way of
revolution is the internet, which has put every
receiving orders. Another system, perhaps even
business and its IT infrastructure online.
older, may be used to process transactions taken
Direct electronic communications has allowed by email and dispatch goods and update a brand
businesses to transact with customers and each new customer relationship management system so
other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and to that new customers are known to the support
address global markets. But to do this requires department.
that the IT systems that drive it all are
All these applications may be running on different
continuously available. Whether it is a supply
hardware and software or may even be provided
chain system linking many suppliers to high street
as an external service. In many businesses they
retail outlets, an e-retailer selling music direct to
will have been linked together so that the process
consumers or a software vendor providing
of order taking is automated. Such processes may
security updates to businesses, down time –
link to external applications run by third parties as
planned or unplanned – is no longer acceptable.
well, for example a credit checking agency or a
It is said that people are more likely to get bank clearing system for payments.
divorced than change banks, but in other areas
And, this works vice versa, the business processes
customers are more fickle. Whether transacting on
of 3rd parties may become reliant for their
behalf of their employer or for themselves,
business process on applications managed by your
individuals will go somewhere else pretty quickly
organisation. Either way, an IT failure can affect
if a business service is perceived to be
more parties than just the business that perpetrates
unavailable. Today, being open for business
means that information technology (IT) systems
are up and running all day every day. Whilst such problems are still common place,
there is no reason why this should be so. With
This is challenging for all businesses and indeed
good management, appropriate security and
public sector organisations – citizens are coming
suitable facilities a reliable 24*7 infrastructure is
to expect the same level of service from their
achievable. This has a price, but so too does being
governments as they do from commercial
off line.
organisations. Large enterprises have invested a
lot in more reliable and available computing
resources, smaller businesses aspire to achieve the
same, but with fewer resources they sometimes
struggle with this.

© 2007 Quocirca Ltd September 2007

Managing small data centres Page 3

Enterprise IT at a mid-market price server is running securely and efficiently is a

skilled job, but for most businesses not a full time
Suitable data centre facilities
one. An MSP can use a number of Exchange
may sound like an expensive
specialists to run the applications of many
proposition for a medium sized
customers. When a problem arises they will be
manufacturing company. Its
likely to have seen it before.
dusty machine room is years
out of date, physical security is
minimal – it would not be that hard for someone Data centre checklist
to break in and steal the hardware servers – and
don’t even ask what would happen if there was a Secure and robust IT needs a safe data
power outage, fire or flood. centre facility that is well managed, this
To build a small data centre that mitigated all this
risk is indeed expensive. In fact you need two, ♦ Resilient physical and electronic security
ideally separated by some distance, if you want a ♦ Disaster protection and recovery
failover capability. For this reason many mid-
market organisations are turning to co-location ♦ Failover capability
providers who lease cages in large enterprise class ♦ Backup power supply
data centres to organisations that cannot afford to
build their own, but want the benefits of such a ♦ Always available high speed internet
facility. connectivity
Their levels of physical security are such that ♦ Effective asset management
many enterprises use them to house applications ♦ 24 hour availability
that handle customer payments in order to meet
the rigorous requirements of the Payment Card Economies of scale allow MSPs to invest in
Industry (PCI). They also provide backup power enterprise level tools to monitor and manage the
supplies and enhanced levels of fire and flood systems of all their customers. They can spot
protection. They locate their data centres near problems, often before they occur and have spare
internet backbones to ensure high speed and parts on hand to fix problems immediately. They
reliable connectivity. So at a price that is certainly have close relationships with the major software
a lot less than building your own, enterprise class suppliers and hear quickly about new
data centre facilities are available to any business. vulnerabilities and how to fix them. They will
Generally speaking co-location providers don’t create test environments for new releases to learn
mind what is put in the rented space. Whether about quirks before going live and they will have
your organisation chooses to use such a facility or the experience to maintain old versions, even
upgrade its own – there is still the question of IT when the vendors themselves have lost interest in
management. Most enterprises with their huge IT them.
departments will generally have the in house MSPs will document customers’ systems using
skills to do all this. Many mid-market enterprise class asset management tools. They
organisations do not. They will often be reliant on know what needs patching and upgrading and
a few individuals who are unlikely to have when is the best time to do it. They will be able to
documented how everything works and should carry out most maintenance whilst applications
they disappear, fixing and upgrading applications remain live. When things start to go wrong they
can become problematic. will know what needs fixing and where to get
But more reliable and flexible IT management spare parts. They can also make sure all software
services are available. The nature of these varies. licensing is compliant.
Some co-location providers do offer managed Last but not least, they take care of the mundane
services for the systems they house. But there are stuff like making sure data is backed up and, more
also many managed service providers (MSPs) importantly have pre-rehearsed recovery
who will take care of IT infrastructure on behalf procedures. They can make sure old stuff is
of businesses, whether it is on their own premises archived (but still locatable), filter and check
or housed at third party data centres. content (e.g. get rid of spam) and monitor logs of
MSPs bring a lot to the party. They have a wide firewalls, databases and so on for anomalous
range of skills with experts in many fields. activity.
Making sure your Microsoft Exchange email

© 2007 Quocirca Ltd September 2007

Managing small data centres Page 4

there are other advantages in doing all this that

The benefits of outsourcing data should not be overlooked.
centre management
First, virtualisation of storage and servers can
♦ Economies of scale allow MSPs to invest make the overall use of IT more efficient ensuring
in enterprise level management tools maximum utilisation, by better sharing of
physical resources. MSPs will have the skill to
♦ Dedicated application specialists with in- help with this, off-setting some of the cost of their
depth expertise own services in the process. More efficient use of
♦ Been there done it – the chances are that IT also allows the green flag to be
a new problem to you is a familiar one to waved – but the environmental
an MSP message goes beyond this.

♦ 24*7 services – do you want a critical Data centres have come in for a
business application to fail in the middle of lot of flak in recent times for the
your night? amount of power they consume. But it should not
be forgotten that 100 mid-sized businesses,
♦ The mundane is every day for MSPs, they sharing a single facility, provided by a co-location
have the right tools for the drudge of provider is far more efficient than 100 small
backup, asset management etc. inefficient managed data centres.
♦ Rehearsed recovery – how quickly can But perhaps most importantly, unless they happen
you recover a failed server or disk? to be a managed service provider, IT management
is not the core activity of most mid-market
♦ Crystal balls – the right tools allow
businesses. Entrusting the task to an experienced
problems to be noticed before they have
third party and ensuring that core business
an impact
activity is underpinned by a solid IT
♦ Spare parts – MSPs carry an inventory of infrastructure, increases the confidence to push
spare parts – no waiting around for business processes harder and reach out to the all
deliveries day every day global economy.
♦ Quick fixes – MSPs quickly identify which Is your data centre up to the job? If not perhaps it
vulnerabilities are serious for their is time to do something about it.
customers and apply rapid fixes.
About Symantec
♦ Failover facility – the facilities and skill to Symantec is a global leader in infrastructure
provide continuous availably for business software, enabling businesses and consumers to
critical apps using backup servers have confidence in a connected world. The
♦ Enterprise level tools and services company helps customers protect their
become affordable through economies of infrastructure, information, and interactions by
scale delivering software and services that address risks
to security, availability, compliance, and
Most MSPs offer round the clock services performance. Headquartered in Cupertino, Calif.,
keeping their customers’ IT running 24*7, and if Symantec has operations in 40 countries. More
an employee of an MSP is run down by a bus, information is available at
someone is there to step into the breach and pick About Quocirca
up the pieces – with everything documented this
should be a much smoother process than ensues in Quocirca is a perceptional research and analysis
many poorly managed mid-market data centres. company with a focus on the European market for
information technology and communications
Beyond availability (ITC). Quocirca reports are freely available to
Even if the key driver for investing in more robust everyone and may be requested via
IT facilities and management is high availability,

© 2007 Quocirca Ltd September 2007