Datacentre dilemmas

Many CIOs today entrust the management of their data centres to those with specialised skills.

These typically include advanced mechanical and electrical engineering knowledge, a close understanding of the minutiae of hardware technology. Increasingly, these need to be combined with an appreciation of environmental and sustainability issues linked to data centre operations.

But there are two issues the CIO takes personal charge of.

 - Integrity: Problems of security, compliance or reliability in the data centre are serious enough to impact the business will bring demands for answers and solutions from the CIO's boardroom colleagues. However it's an eventuality which can reasonably be expected to happen infrequently, and may never happen at all.
 - Cost: The other circumstance, however, is inevitable. It is the question of cost whenever a major upgrade or new build becomes unavoidable.

With a typical modern, medium-to-large (1000 square metre) tier-3 data centre coming with a price tag upwards of £50m, it is a question not only for the CIO but also the CEO and CFO.

A data centre has an effective working life of 12 years or less before major refurbishments are needed.

In light of the peak in data centre construction that occurred in the UK during 2001 to 2008 (after Y2k and before the global financial crisis), new investment is soon going to be high on the agenda for many CIOs in the UK.

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As well as finding the money, many might also struggle to find the skills for a big new data centre programme, given the last time they did this was 12 -15 years ago.

With today's tight budgets across the public and private sectors showing no sign of easing in the foreseeable future, a request from the CIO for capital expenditure of £50m is unlikely to be given the nod quickly or easily in many organisations.

The pressure to look for alternative options is huge, so what are the alternatives?

An obvious choice is to avoid a massive all-or-nothing financial hit by upgrading existing data centres on a step-by-step, piecemeal basis.

The problem with that is two-fold:

 - First, modern data centre technology demands a consistent and unified architecture, a mixture of old and new technology does not always sit together comfortably. Like putting new racing tyres on an old banger, the hoped-for performance boost is unlikely to happen, and increased stress on the older components is likely to bring serious risk of new problems and increased downtime.
 - Second, this approach means returning to the Board over and again with repeated requests for funds.

Another option is outsourcing, and it is interesting to note that through the recession, IT outsourcing continues to thrive globally, according to the latest research from Gartner, published in May 2012.