BT is set to tap into the growing demand for virtual services by offering a virtual offering that will compete head-on with the traditional datacentre

The new service, Virtual DataCentre, has been piloted by ten UK companies and six in the rest of Europe, said Craig Parker, head of global IT services for BT.

The offering which is built on the virtualised datacentre concept developed by Cisco, NetApp and Vmware, will be offered in the UK through BT Retail meaning that it could attract smaller companies than the global conglomerates handled by BT Global Services.

Parker said that there was no minimum recommended size for the service, although he expected that the initial customers would be larger enterprises.

He said that although the equipment and software came from other vendors, BT still had a done a lot of the work to make the offering ready for customers. "There's a lot of configuration to do, with BT making the architectural decisions. There's also the integration with Geneva, our billing system and the XML coding that we've brought in.

Parker said that the new service, which will offer a 99.99 per cent service level guarantee,  would not exactly be a datacentre on demand, "This isn't buy a virtual machine with a credit card," he said. Configurations would involve some work with BT's consulting service, and, he said, it could take up to five days to complete the datacentre deployment, although it could be done in less time than that. "We've completed some in 24 hours and we're looking to get that down further," he added.

Enterprises are used to being near datacentres to iron out any latency issues. Parker said that latency would be an issue for users of the virtual datacentre but said that companies would get round this by building different models of service. He added that the other objection that was usually raised - that of companies needing to know where their data was being held - was less of an issue. "Our research shows that companies tend to be relaxed where their data is held - as long as it doesn't leave the EU," he said.